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L’aumônerie militaire au Canada

Religious personnel have served alongside Canadian soldiers since the First World War but were not formalised into the permanent Canadian Chaplain Services (Protestant and Roman Catholic) until 1945. After that, Christian chaplain services expanded to include support for married soldiers and their families and providing regular services on bases and ships across Canada.

The chaplain branch today is known formally as the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS). Chaplains, like medical personnel, are considered ‘dual professionals’ who, in addition to being non-combatants, have privileges allowing them to bypass the chain of command and interact with personnel of any level of rank. At the individual level, chaplains provide religious services, counselling and mediation. At the institutional level chaplains help identify and correct issues of morale that could decrease operational efficiency. In both their official and religious capacities, military chaplains represent the Canadian Armed Forces and all its members at internal and public military events. Their services are available to active personnel, veterans, and military families.

The loss of moral consensus caused by the waning influence of traditional religious authorities and increasing pluralism due to rising immigration from non-European countries have required ongoing adaptations from the chaplaincy.

Early efforts involved inviting women and unifying the Catholic and Protestant branches of the chaplaincy. The first female chaplains joined the branch in 1981 (Protestant) and 1986 (Roman Catholic). In 1997, an Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy (ICCMC) was established to fuse the Catholic and Protestant branches of the chaplaincy. Today it serves as a liaison between the Government of Canada, the Office of the Chaplain General and various religious organisations in Canada.

By the early 2000s, multifaith services, interfaith prayer rooms, and non-denominational chapels were appearing on bases and ships across Canada. In 2003, the first Muslim imam was integrated into the regular forces. In 2006, the original badge and hymn were changed to be more inclusive. The first Orthodox Jewish rabbi joined the reserve forces in 2007. By 2008, non-Christian leaders from Muslim, Jewish and Indigenous faith traditions were added to the ICCMC. In 2011 a new interfaith crest was created and in 2013, the chaplaincy appointed its first openly gay Chaplain General. These adaptations have arisen as a steady response to external realities and the changing membership of military personnel.

The branch is guided by policies in keeping with legal interpretations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantee protection for minority groups. Thus, although individual chaplains are endorsed by a particular faith tradition, they are required to serve all military personnel of diverse beliefs. Military policies that once ensured conformity and uniformity now accommodate religious pluralism by allowing time away from duties for prayer, different modes of dress and hairstyle, and special meals. The only limitations on these rights are incurred by health and safety regulations relating to operating equipment, and the realities of operational duties that impede personal freedoms in a variety of ways.

Efforts to become more diverse and inclusive are ongoing. However, as of September 2020, the RCChS remains primarily Christian (95%) and male (82%). Of the Christian chaplains, the majority belong to Protestant denominations (65%). The other 30% are Catholics, both priests and non-ordained pastoral associates, including the Roman (79), Orthodox (2), and Ukrainian Greek (2) rites.

The denominations that historically predominated within the branch still collectively make up 55% of the whole. These include Roman Catholics (28%), Anglicans (14%) and those groups that form what is now the United Church of Canada : United Church (8%) and Presbyterians (5%). Evangelical Protestants are the fastest growing demographic and include both denominational and non-denominational members. The following table shows the change in religious representation within the regular forces chaplaincy between 2006 and 2020 based on internal statistics compiled by the branch :

Table 1 : Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (Regular Force), 2006-2020

Religion 2006 2010 2014 2020%
Buddhism 0 0 0 1 0.4%
Christian Denominations 184 218 212 264 95.0%
Islam 1 2 3 9 3.2%
Judaism 0 0 2 3 1.1%
Sikhism 0 0 0 1 0.4%
Subtotal 185 220 217 278
Christian Denominations
Catholicism 80 91 74 83 30%
Protestants 104 127 138 181 65%
Protestant Denominations
Anglican 35 47 41 38 14%
Baptist 13 19 24 42 15%
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) 16 17 28 7 3%
Christians of Evangelical Faith of Canada (CEFC) 0 0 0 44 16%
Community Christian Church (CCC) – Disciples of Christ (DOC) 0 0 0 1 0%
Lutheran* 9 9 10 12 4%
Presbyterians 6 7 7 13 5%
United Church 25 28 28 23 8%
Unitarians 0 0 0 1 0%

*Includes three (3) Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), one (1) The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), and eight (8) Lutheran Church of Canada (LCC).

Further information
Benham Rennick, J. 2011. Religion in the Ranks : Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

D 4 mai 2021    AJoanne Benham Rennick

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