Archdiocese Slams Walter Reed for ‘Cease and Desist Order’ to Priests Before Holy Week

Archbishop Timothy Broglio (center) celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass at Walter Reed National
Archdiocese for Military USA

The Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) slammed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for issuing a “cease and desist order” to Holy Name College, a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers who have provided pastoral care to troops and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades, just before Holy Week.

AMS said in a press release Friday:

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.

AMS said the Franciscans’ contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was terminated on March 31, 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,” AMS said.

Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) called the move an “unconscionable attack on Christian service members and the First Amendment” by Biden Department of Defense (DOD) leadership.

“The House must investigate why DOD did this, especially on Holy Week!” she said.

Archbishop for the Military Services Rev. Timothy P. Broglio called the move an encroachment on the First Amendment guarantee of the Free Exercise of Religion.

Rev. 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.

In a statement to Catholic News Agency on Saturday, Walter Reed said the pastoral care contract “is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.”

“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) is a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs,” it said, adding:

Tomorrow, Catholic Easter Services will be provided to those who wish to attend. Services will include a celebration of Mass and the administration of Confession by an ordained Catholic Priest.

For many years, a Catholic ordained priest has been on staff at WRNMMC providing religious sacraments to service members, veterans and their loved ones. There has also been a pastoral care contract in place to supplement those services provided,” the medical center said.

Although at this time the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday at WRNMMC, parishioners of the Diocese while patients at WRNMMC may still seek their services.

AMS said while Walter Reed claims Catholic care is being provided during Holy Week, without Catholic priests present at the medical center, service members and veterans are being denied the constitutional right to practice their religion.

“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,” AMS said.

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