Do RN Chaplains want to be armed? (Daily Mail)


War Hero


Army chaplains want right to carry weapons to protect themselves against the Taliban
by MATTHEW HICKLEY - More by this author »

Last updated at 20:28pm on 20th November 2007

British military chaplains in Afghanistan are urging an historic change in the rules to allow them to carry weapons when out on patrol alongside troops fighting the Taliban, because of the risk of capture.

For the first time in any theatre of conflict chaplains are no longer considered to be protected by the rules of war, because of the propaganda Taliban extremists would gain from showing "trophy" footage of a captive Christian priest.

By long tradition, clergy serving in Britain's armed forces have not carried weapons in war-zones, but now some Royal Navy Commando chaplains want to be allowed to carry a side-arm, stating that as a last resort they would rather take their own life than fall into the hands of the Taliban.

The issue has sparked an intense debate within the chaplain community, where some oppose the move on principle.

Under the Geneva Convention all military chaplains are 'non-combatants' and are granted certain protections if taken prisoner, but in Afghanistan such rules are irrelevant since the Taliban pay no heed to international law or the Convention.

UK forces in Afghanistan have already stopped observing one requirement of the Geneva Convention, as for the first time both chaplains and frontline medics have abandoned their traditional Red Cross arm bands when out in the field.

The assessment by commanders is that far from enjoying any protection, anyone wearing the Red Cross would be at greater risk from the enemy.

So far the firearms debate only involves Royal Navy Commando chaplains who minister to the Royal Marines, currently fighting and working to build security in southern Afghanistan.

Commando chaplains routinely visit forward operating bases to conduct services and offer pastoral support, and unlike most of their Army counterparts they also join troops on patrols in order to share and understand their experiences.

Uniquely among military clergy they have all completed the same training as their "flock" - in this case the gruelling 32-week Commando training course - enabling them to live and work on the frontline without being a burden to the men or their commanders.

Without Red Cross armbands they are now indistinguishable within a group of Marines, wearing identical uniform, body armour and helmets.

During training they are taught to handle and fire SA-80 assault rifles and pistols, because as trained first-aiders they are allowed to use a wounded Marine's own weapon to protect him on a battlefield.

But now some chaplains are pressing for the rules barring them from carrying their own personal weapon to be relaxed - specifically within Afghanistan, because of the nature of the enemy - giving them the discretion to take a sidearm on patrol.

There are about a dozen chaplains in Afghanistan.

The Revd Stuart Hallam, (Church of England) Royal Navy Chaplain to 40 Commando, currently serving in Afghanistan, is one of those in favour.

He told the Mail: "For the first time in any theatre of war we are seen as a legitimate target by the enemy.

"We are already effectively breaking the Geneva Convention by not wearing red arm bands. Maybe we're passed gentlemen's agreements, and have to re-think the way we go about our ministry in this kind of conflict.

"The Convention itself doesn't actually prohibit us from carrying a weapon, but long tradition and UK military rules do, and the issue has divided the chaplain community.

"For Commando chaplains our ethos is that to serve our people we have to be able to go through what they go through, which includes patrolling on the ground.

"In theory if we're captured in war we are supposed to be allowed to go about our ministry among prisoners. But that's a very long way from the reality in Afghanistan."

He added: "It's very unlikely we could be captured here, but if we were, the Taliban may well use us for publicity, and then probably execute us - just as they probably would any other coalition serviceman.

"I don't think I could put my wife through that. I personally would not want to let myself be captured.

"For that reason I think we should be pragmatic over sidearms. None of us are comfortable with this, and there are those who think it's going too far.

"But it's a debate which needs resolving, because of the kind of operations the Royal Marines are carrying out and are likely to in the years ahead."

Monsignor Paul Donovan, (Roman Catholic) Director of the Naval Chaplaincy Service (Operations), said: "The Chaplain on the ground needs to make the judgement whether the Red Cross symbol, which is meant to afford protection under the Geneva Convention, instead stands him in greater danger.

"Whilst some other nations do arm their chaplains as a matter of course, current British practice is not to."

Military chaplains - commonly known as Padres - have a proud history of supporting Britain's frontline forces often at great personal risk, and some have been decorated for extreme valour in helping wounded troops under fire.

In World War Two 134 British and Commonwealth Padres were killed, and chaplains followed the troops ashore on D-Day and jumped with Paratroopers behind enemy..."


War Hero
A minor point but typical that the Daily Mail has a large article all about Royal Navy Chaplains...then calls them Army on the title!

But seriously, this is a major issue. What do you think?
It seems rather hypocritical. It also makes one question if their faith is genuine. If you believe in God's Will and get captured, surely that should be seen as a test of your faith?* In Jesus's time being a Christian was a very risky business as Christians were persecuted and faced being killed for their beliefs. Today Christianity is the norm and the persecution and, in some places, the killings, are being carried out by the Christians (eg Robert Mugabe).

*I personally regard it as foolhardy in the extreme, but after all Priests' own position has been compromised by their leaders' insistence (in Britain & Europe) that where the majority are Christian, Christian moral norms should be prevail and be enshrined in law. In Afghanistan the majority are Muslim. If the Taleban, who are, after all, natives of the country, choose to enforce their moral norms on Christians, who are we to condemn them? As Jesus said: Do to others as you would have done to yourselves.

End of being Mr Nasty.
As one of the Padre's said, he doesn't want his missus having to watch him in an orange jump suit on telly.

It's a matter of personal choice, I can see no problem with it.


War Hero
Having reread the article it seems that it is not the fear of being captured or killed that is the issue, but rather sparing their wife having to watch their execution.

A tough decision. I think that they shouldn't be armed, but it is easy to say that sitting at home in my dressing gown just before I go upstairs to a nice warm bed, rather than being somewhere hot and sandy.


War Hero
This is not without precedent. I have spoken to a Chaplain who carried a weapon in Vietnam for much the same reasons. The VC /PAVN were no respecters of the clergy or the Red Cross and he considered it his duty to defend himself and the wounded he looked after.

I doubt God has a problem with that.
I would leave it up to the individual Padre concerned. If they wanted to carry a side arm then let them, those that don't want it, don't force them to carry one.
Did I read correctly that the side arm was to use to commit suicide rather than be captured? Surely anyone daft enough to believe in a supreme being would consider this a mortal sin?


Lantern Swinger
IMHO its got to be down to indivudual choice.

One thought did occur to me and that is if they are no longer wearing red cross armbands then by not carrying a weapon on patrol, they are still singling themselves out as every other member of the foot patrol will be armed.

As an aside, one of the best shots I ever encountered in the mob was a padre, he was an exceptional shot with an SLR, put me in my place on several occasions.

Anyway safe trip to all those in hot dusty places

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