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Navy spares controversial chaplain accused of misconduct

September 4, 2015 (Photo Credit: Defense Department)

The Navy has decided not to force out a Pentecostal chaplain who landed in hot water for allegedly scolding sailors for homosexuality and premarital sex.

Lt. Cmdr. Wesley Modder was given a "detachment for cause" letter in February and ousted from his job after his commander concluded that he was "intolerant" and "unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment" of his current assignment at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina.

But a high-level review at Navy Personnel Command rejected the commander's recommendation to fire the chaplain, a move that will clear the way for Modder to retire in good standing as he nears his 20th year of service.

Top Navy officials said there was limited hard evidence of Modder's alleged misconduct. Investigating chaplains is uniquely difficult because conversations between service members and chaplains are typically considered confidential.

"There is no documentation of poor performance in his personnel record," said one official familiar with the investigation, who asked for anonymity to discuss a personnel decision.

"There was no record of counseling. There was no letter of instruction given to Chaplain Modder by the command and non-judicial punishment was not conducted," the official said.

Modder, once assigned to an elite Navy SEAL unit, had denied any wrongdoing and pushed his case into the public spotlight with support from attorneys at the Liberty Institute, which advocates for religious expression in the military and in public institutions.

In February Navy Capt. Jon Fahs, NNPTC commander, cited several specific incidents in which Modder offered inappropriate counseling to sailors in the command, according to the detachment for cause letter. The letter said that Modder:

  • Told a female that she was "shaming herself in the eyes of god" for having premarital sex.
  • Told another student that homosexuality was wrong and that "the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus."
  • Suggested to a student that he, Modder, had the ability to "save" gay people.
  • "Berated" a student for becoming pregnant while not married.

The commander felt that allowing vulnerable sailors to be counseled by Modder is "a recipe for tragedy," according to the commander's letter.

But in a letter to Fahs dated Sept. 3, Navy Personnel Command said the commander's investigation's "evidence of substandard performance in this case does not meet the standard of gross negligence or complete disregard for duty" that is required under Navy rules to warrant a detachment for cause, which is filed into an officer's record and can trigger a board that ends their service. The letter was from Rear Adm. David Steindl, the head of NPC and deputy chief of Naval Personnel.

Modder's attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, Sept. 4.

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