The Obama administration has, according to the Fort Belvoir Catholic Community’s Facebook page, canceled at least three Church services. In an Oct. 1 posting, the Church canceled multiple services on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 “due to the government shutdown.” Several other postings on the Facebook page show that other services have been canceled or limited as well.
The Church is on the Fort Belvoir military base in Northern Virginia, and provides services to troop families. According to the general counsel for the Archdiocese of Military Services, some Catholic priests who provide services to troops, face arrest if they practice their faith during the government shutdown. “These men are employed by the government to ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present,” John Schlageter, general counsel for the archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, said, according to CNS News. “With the government shutdown, many GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer.”
Ron Meyer, a conservative running for Congress against Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) in a district just outside Fort Belvoir, called on the administration to resolve this issue immediately. Meyer is running in a district home to many constituents who are parishioners at Fort Belvoir’s Catholic Church.
“Freedom of Religion is not discretionary–it’s an essential right,” Meyer said in a statement provided to Breitbart News. “If the White House can afford to keep their chef, they can afford to fund our servicemen’s church services. I call on the White House to either reopen these services or sign a Continuing Resolution that completely funds this church’s services. We cannot allow the government’s partisan dysfunction and lack of compromise to hurt our military. It is beyond disrespectful to restrict the 1st Amendment practices of those men and women who risk their lives to protect these fundamental rights for us all.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) has similarly expressed outrage at the administration’s behavior towards Catholics during the government shutdown. On Tuesday, his congressional office sent out a press release quoting Father Ray Leonard, who serves at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, and was denied access to the King Bays Chapel to celebrate Mass this past weekend. Huelskamp’s office notes that Leonard is a priest “contracted by the Department of Defense to meet the spiritual needs of hundreds of Catholics on and around the base” and was “met by locked chapel doors and posted signs: ‘Shutdown: No Catholic service till further notice.'” Huelskamp’s office noted that Leonard had volunteered his time to celebrate Mass and hear confessions for free, but “was still denied access to his parishioners.”
“This is our church, Catholics have an expectation and obligation to attend Mass and we were told, ‘no you can’t go to church this week,'” Leonard said in the release published by Huelskamp’s office.”My parishioners were upset. They were angry and dismayed. They couldn’t believe that in America they’d be denied access to Mass by the government.”