Washington, Dec. 6--(AP) Navy officials designated a Roman Catholic priest who is not a doctor as a flight surgeon simply to give him a plum assignment, according to military records filed in a federal lawsuit.

The attorney for a group of evangelical chaplains, who are suing the Navy for discrimination, says the deception on behalf of the Rev. John W. Lyle was a scheme to get Lyle transferred from the reserves to better-paying active duty. "There's no justifiable reason for this except to advance this person's promotion," said Arthur Schulcz, the chaplains' lawyer.

The evangelical chaplains contend Lyle's case illustrates their claim that Catholic and mainline Protestant chaplains get special treatment from the Navy, and evangelical chaplains are passed over for promotions.

Lyle, a former Catholic high school principal in a Virginia suburb of Washington, was put on active duty last year and promoted to head chaplain at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla. The September 2001 orders that transferred him to Florida from a temporary posting at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., indicated his duties would be as a student physician.

The orders also said Lyle would have to qualify medically for flight training and report to a Navy base in Pensacola for that training "when directed." The orders do not indicate whether Lyle had any medical training. There also is no indication Lyle ever served as a doctor or as anything other than a chaplain.

No one named John W. Lyle is a licensed physician in Virginia, Maryland, Florida or the District of Columbia, according to records from those jurisdictions. There is no one named John W. Lyle in the American Medical Association's directory of doctors in federal government service. Lyle, reached this week by telephone at the Jacksonville base chapel, said he couldn't comment since the matter was the subject of a lawsuit.

The Navy has about 850 chaplains to serve the religious needs of members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The evangelical chaplains' lawsuit, filed in 2000, contends that some of them have been passed over for promotions, harassed by their superiors or forced out of the military, while Catholic and mainline Protestant chaplains have been promoted despite blots on their records.

The Navy divides its Christian chaplains into three categories: Roman Catholics, liturgical Protestants and nonliturgical Protestants. The evangelical chaplains suing the Navy say the service improperly sets aside one-third of its slots for each category when more than one-third of its members identify themselves as followers of nonliturgical faiths such as Baptists and other Pentecostals who do not follow a set liturgy.

Schulcz filed a petition last week in Washington asking U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina to order the Navy to remove Lyle from his post in Jacksonville. The Navy has until next week to file a response.

The surgeon designation apparently helped Lyle avoid a Navy rule barring chaplains above lieutenant's rank from transferring to active duty from the reserves, the lawsuit says. Lyle was a lieutenant commander, one grade above lieutenant, when he was put on active duty, and has since been promoted to commander.

Reservists are generally required to serve at least one weekend per month, plus an additional two weeks each year. For a reservist lieutenant commander, that would amount to between $6,350 and $11,150 per year. Base pay for active duty lieutenant commanders ranges from about $36,000 per year to nearly $64,000, depending on experience. For commanders, base active duty pay ranges from $42,000 to $75,000 per year.

The lawsuit includes a statement from another Navy chaplain, Richard Arnold, who said Lyle complained before his promotion that the Navy would not call him to active duty. Lyle later bragged he had contacted friends in the secretary of the Navy's office to get around those restrictions, Arnold said in his statement.

A Navy spokesman, Lt. John Spires, said he could not comment on a pending lawsuit. But in court documents, the Navy denies any discrimination and says the incidents cited in the suit should be handled individually.

Lyle was activated in April 2001 for "special active duty" as a chaplain at Quantico. His September 2001 orders direct Lyle to serve temporary duty at Quantico for 208 days, then attend chaplain leadership classes at a Navy officers' school in Newport, R.I., before transferring to Florida. That temporary duty also violated regulations, Schulcz said, because Lyle served more than 200 days at Quantico, while the rules limit such temporary duty to no more than 180 days.

Lyle gained notice in 2000 for allowing the enrollment at his northern Virginia high school of a 27-year-old man who claimed he was filmmaker Steven Spielberg's teenage nephew. The impostor, who had legally changed his name to Jonathan Taylor Spielberg, attended classes sporadically from 1998 to 2000 at Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va.

Lyle introduced Jonathan Spielberg to several classes, and the student sometimes parked his blue BMW in the principal's parking space, other students said. The student, an Iranian immigrant who had changed his name in 1997 from Anoushirvan D. Fakhran, pleaded guilty to fraud in 2000 after school administrators discovered the truth. Lyle left the school that year under a previously planned transfer of Paul VI operations from Lyle's religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, to the local Catholic diocese.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus