Churches council to turn to NATO if EDF chaplaincy service is cut

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Lt. Gen. Martin Herem participating at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Estonian Defense Forces' chaplaincy service in 2020. Source: Estonian Defense Forces

The Estonian Council of Churches (Eesti Kirikute Nõukogu) announced it is prepared to turn to allies in NATO to ask for aid if the government's austerity plans lead to the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) to cut its chaplaincy service.

Head of the council Archbishop Emeritus Andres Põder wrote to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), President of the Riigikogu Jüri Ratas (Center) and other party chairmen that it seems as if the plans to cut the EDF's chaplaincy service stem from an ideological stance, which endangers freedom of religion in the defense forces.

At the same time, the letter points to EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem's appearance on Vikerraadio's religious show "Kirikuelu", in which the commander stated that chaplains could remain in the EDF if the resource were to come in from the outside.

"We are asking for the necessary sum to be allocated from the state budget. It is also considerable to add the chaplains to the Ministry of Defense's payroll, as it has been arranged in the Ministry of Social Affairs," Põder penned, adding that the council is actually not sure of the sum, but there has been talks of it being around €200,000-€300,000.

The council head also proposes the final decision to be delayed until fall, when the country's economic indicators are published. If the proposals do not acquire sufficient political support, the Council of Estonian Churches promises to turn to NATO with a request for aid.

"If no solution can be found within the country, we are also prepared to turn to allied states in NATO for financial aid to continue the chaplaincy service in the EDF," the letter reads.

EDF commander Martin Herem announced in May that due to the government's plans to make cuts in all governance areas, the Estonian Defense Forces is prepared to lay off its orchestra and chaplaincy service.

From autumn, a pastoral coordinator will remain with the EDF full-time, with remaining staff being placed on reserve lists. The government is looking to save around €10 million in defense spending, taken from operational costs rather than defense investments, which are to remain intact.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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