It has been a long month since officials at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center terminated its contract with its Catholic chaplaincy. In the fashion of the ancient military governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, the Franciscan Friars were removed from their role of providing sacraments and spiritual care in the hospital during Holy Week.
Why this tumult at one of the nation’s premier military hospitals? It is a place where the most critically injured service members and U.S. presidents go for their medical care along with tens of thousands of other patients annually. The Archdiocese for The Military Services, USA, is responsible for the spiritual care of all Catholics serving in the United States military worldwide. Its Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio has voiced a loud protest and is pushing to correct the problem.
The contract was given to a secular staffing outsourcing company Mack Global LLC, which defines itself in this way:
Our Core Competencies:
- Telework Consulting Services
- Administrative and Religious Staffing
- Transportation Services & Roadway Construction
- Workforce Development and Training
- Product and Equipment Supply
If you want to build a highway to heaven and need equipment and supplies for the road, along with a little telework for the cloud of witnesses cheering the faithful on, you’ve got the right company here by golly.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Coffey, a Navy veteran with 20 years of active service and nine years in the reserves, is tasked with caring for U.S. military and Veterans Administration hospitals. He regularly travels the country visiting them. He told PJMedia today during one of his trips that there seem to be only two reasons for this policy change. Either the person requisitioning the new contract didn’t understand the services Catholic chaplains provide. Only Catholic chaplains can say Mass and administer the sacraments to Catholics. “That would be bad enough if someone in that position didn’t know that,” he said. The second option would be worse; if they intentionally kept Catholic chaplains out. “That would be much worse,” he said.
Coffey said Archbishop Broglio is working to resolve this, but at times the military works very slowly indeed. Currently, only one active-service catholic Army chaplain is working at the medical complex. And he will be separating from the service soon.
Archbishop Broglio didn’t mince words in his statement following the decision. “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.”
Is there someone in Congress who can look into this? There seems to be a serious legal issue at stake. And clear oversight of the Executive Branch is needed here. With the millions being earmarked for defense spending, how strange they are cutting corners here.
Archbishop Broglio is known for speaking clearly about the importance of the right to life. He led members of his archdiocese, which included cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy, in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January. He has also issued a Respect Life pastoral letter in which he opposes using VA hospitals to do abortions. And he has criticized the Biden administration’s use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortion travel.
In contrast, President Joe Biden, a Catholic who has shown disdain for Catholic pro-life teaching in his speeches, has mobilized the federal government to promote abortion in every way possible in response to the Dobbs decision. Does part of that effort include kicking Catholic military chaplains out of military and VA hospitals? If so, that would be payback on an epic scale.
In addition to paving over the First Amendment, Walter Reed is doing its best to deny the timely administration of last rights to the dying and hearing confessions of the sick at a military hospital serving our nation’s capital. This defies every tradition of service military chaplains have provided in their long history. It is time for Congress to step in and right this wrong if it is not resolved quickly.