The Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services is accusing Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of denying Catholic service members and veterans their right to practice their religion after it canceled a contract for pastoral care and issued a 'cease and desist' order to a community of Catholic priests just days before Holy Week.
The Catholic archdiocese says in a statement that Walter Reed issued the order against Holy Name College Friary, a Franciscan community of priests and brothers that has served at the center for nearly 20 years.
Instead, it says the contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was terminated at the end of March, just as Holy Week was about to begin. Walter Reed replaced the contract with a secular defense contracting firm that the archdiocese says will not be able to provide the adequate care needed.
The archdiocese condemned the move as an encroachment upon the right of free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and said its requests to have the ministry reinstated through Easter have not received a response.
'It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,' Archbishop Timothy Broglio said in a statement.
'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,' he said. 'I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.'
While the Archdiocese acknowledged that the chaplain’s office said Catholic care is being provided during Holy Week, it said that without Catholic priests, service members and veterans are being denied their right to practice their religion. Certain central Catholic practices -- such as the celebration of the Mass and the administration of Confession -- can only be carried out by an ordained Catholic priest.
In a statement on Saturday, Walter Reed said the center is a 'welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs.'
'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,' the statement said. '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.'
'Currently a review of the pastoral care contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries,' the statement said. 'Although at this time the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday parishioners of the Diocese while patients at our facilities may still seek their services.'
The AMS was created by St. Pope John Paul II to provide the Church’s services to veterans and service members in the U.S. and overseas. The archdiocese, which does not have geographical boundaries, is responsible for the care of 1.8 million Catholics across the globe.
Walter Reed was most recently in the headlines after Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., checked into the center on Feb 15 for clinical depression. He was released at the of March, and his office said that he is now in remission after his treatment.