Just days before Holy Week began this month, Catholic veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center reportedly lost their access to a group of priests assigned to provide pastoral care at the hospital.
Reports indicate that a contract between Walter Reed and Holy Name College expired at the end of March and the hospital decided not to renew it. Instead, officials reportedly issued a cease-and-desist order to the Catholic organization and finalized a new contract with for-profit secular firm Mack Global LLC
Biden didn’t just kick out the Catholic priests who have been providing religious services at Walter Reed Military Medical Center for 25 years, he picked Holy Week to do it
Today I will be seeking answers on this https://t.co/oYUgzyU1it
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) April 10, 2023
While this might not have been a major problem if the new contractor provided similar services, critics say it has thus far been unwilling or unable to replace the priests who left after the expiration of the prior agreement.
In a subsequent statement on the matter, the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services explained: “There is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he is in the process of separating from the Army.”
The archdiocese concluded that the situation amounts to a First Amendment violation.
“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,” the statement asserted. “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.”
Furthermore, Walter Reed officials reportedly ignored requests from the archdiocese to even discuss the possibility of altering their position.
As Archbishop Timothy Broglio said, the move was “incomprehensible” and seemed to hinge on the fact that Mack Global was the lowest bidder.
“I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected,” he added.
Walter Reed did provide a response through a spokesperson who claimed that the cease-and-desist order only came days after the contract expired because Holy Name College continued to provide services at the hospital. The source also insisted that Walter Reed “is a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs” and “can provide Catholic services without a contract.”