Sunday 9 April 2023

Walter Reed Issues Cease and Desist Order Against Catholic Chaplains After Contract Canceled During Easter Holy Week

 Did John Fetterman have something to do with this? Days after Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s most famous patient was released from care it was revealed the military hospital has issued a cease and desist order barring Catholic priests from ministering. The contract was reportedly awarded to a secular for-profit company. The order has been denounced by at least one Congressman.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio (center) celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, on March 2, 2022. Photo via Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA released a statement on Friday about the barring of priests from Holy Name College. Walter Reed is located in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. Holy Name College is a few miles east in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Terminates Catholic Pastoral Care Contract During Holy Week
Move violates First Amendment Right to Free Exercise of Religion

WASHINGTON, DC – Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has issued a “cease and desist order” to Holy Name College, a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers, who have provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades.

The government’s cease and desist order directed the Catholic priests to cease any religious services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This order was issued as Catholics entered Holy Week, the most sacred of days in the Christian faith, in which they participate in liturgies remembering Jesus’ passion, and leading the Church to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter morning.

The Franciscans’ contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was terminated on March 31, 2023, and awarded to a secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract. As a result, adequate pastoral care is not available for service members and veterans in the United States’ largest Defense Health Agency medical center either during Holy Week or beyond. There is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he is in the process of separating from the Army.

His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, condemned the move as an encroachment on the First Amendment guarantee of the Free Exercise of Religion. Archbishop Broglio said: “It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available. This is a classic case where the adage ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies. I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service. I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.”

Ms. Elizabeth A. Tomlin, Esq., General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), has reached out to the contracting officers at Walter Reed numerous times throughout Holy Week asking for the Franciscans’ Catholic ministry to be reinstated at least through Easter. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has not responded to these requests from the Archdiocese.

While Walter Reed’s chaplain office claims Catholic care is being provided during Holy Week, the AMS maintains that without Catholic priests present at the medical center, service members and veterans are being denied the constitutional right to practice their religion.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is one of many medical centers within the Department of Defense and Defense Health Agency whose pastoral care lies within AMS jurisdiction. The refusal to provide adequate pastoral care while awarding a contract for Catholic ministry to a for-profit company that has no way of providing Catholic priests to the medical center is a glaring violation of service members’ and veterans’ Right to the Free Exercise of Religion. Especially, during Holy Week, the lack of adequate Catholic pastoral care causes untold and irreparable harm to Catholics who are hospitalized and therefore a captive population whose religious rights the government has a constitutional duty to provide for and protect.

A 2019 job posting by Holy Name College for a part-time chaplain describes the work involved:

The Franciscans at Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Md., have an opening for a friar priest to join the chaplain team at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – the Flagship of Military Medicine – located in suburban Washington, DC. The Franciscans have served at Walter Reed as contract chaplains since 2007 as part of the Department of Pastoral Care and currently are present at the hospital six days a week. The department consists of military chaplains of various faith denominations as well as contract civilian clergy.

Chaplains minister to active duty service members, veterans and their families, as well as elected members of the three branches of government. The work involves patient visitation, counseling, and liturgical celebrations – daily Mass, Anointing of the Sick, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and an occasional Baptism. The position is part-time: two or three days a week, four to five hours a day.

CPE background welcome but not required. Fluency in Spanish helpful but not required. This may be a good fit for a semi-retired friar-priest looking for a part-time pastoral position coupled with other ministries and desires to live in a formation house.

Catholic Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who was elected to Congress last year in New York’s red wave that helped Republicans take the House, expressed outrage, “This is a disgraceful act during Holy week and needs to be rectified immediately. As a practicing Catholic, the anti-Catholic bigotry that permeates our gov’t and society is alarming. ⁦@DeptVetAffairs @DeptofDefense @POTUS”

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