Republican lawmakers want to know why a group of Catholic priests was barred from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center just before Easter week services, leaving troops there with limited options for their religious celebrations.
Clergy from Holy Name College, a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers – who have worked on the military campus for nearly two decades – were told earlier this month that they would no longer be permitted access for religious services.
“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged,” Catholic Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services said in a statement. “This is a classic case where the adage ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies.”
Medical center officials told Military Times the contract between the college and campus expired after military officials opted to partner with a different firm.
However, officials with the Franciscan college said in a statement that the new group — Mack Global LLC — does not have Catholic clergy under contract to provide services and sacraments, leaving Catholic troops without reasonable access for their religious needs. Mack Global did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday, a group of 11 Republican members of Congress called the situation “utterly unconscionable” for troops at the medical campus.
“The Defense Department’s actions to deny Catholic Pastoral Care from service members and veterans at Walter Reed goes against the morals, way of life, and rights that make up the fabric of our great nation,” they wrote.
Walter Reed officials said in a statement provided to the Military Times that the Mack Global contract “is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.”
Campus officials declined to provide specifics on how many troops at Walter Reed are practicing Catholics. The center does have one active-duty Army Catholic Priest assigned to the campus, providing “pastoral counseling and sacramental rites,” the statement said, but the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services said he is in the process of separating from service.
The medical center also said three additional Catholic priests in the Washington, D.C. region are available for assistance, and they are confident that the center has “sufficient resources to provide for the religious needs of our Catholic beneficiaries” at the current time.
But lawmakers in their letter challenged that assertion. They’re asking for an official department response on what services were provided to Catholic troops over Easter week, what pastoral counseling help is currently available to troops and whether a “for-profit secular firm” was the best choice for the new contract.
They also voiced “glaring concerns about the DoD’s lack of consideration for the needs of Catholic service members and veterans receiving care at Walter Reed.”
Walter Reed officials did not say when their contract review may be completed.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.