The Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services accused Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of denying service members and veterans their constitutional right to practice their religion after it issued a “cease and desist order” to a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers who have “provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades.”
The order came as Catholics entered Holy Week, the Christian faith’s most sacred days.
According to a news release, the Franciscans’ contract was terminated on March 31, 2023, and was awarded to a secular defense contracting firm “that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract.”
As a result, troops and veterans at Walter Reed did not have access to “adequate pastoral care” during Holy Week and won’t have access to it in the future.
“There is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he is in the process of separating from the Army,” the release stated.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio condemned the cease and desist order as “an encroachment on the First Amendment guarantee of the Free Exercise of Religion.”
“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,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Walter Reed said in a statement on Saturday that the center is a “welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs,” Fox News reported.
“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 added. “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 Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services acknowledged Walter Reed’s claims that Catholic care was provided during Holy Week, but maintained “that without Catholic priests present at the medical center, service members and veterans are being denied the constitutional right to practice their religion.”