April 13, 2023 // National

Walter Reed Decision to Cancel Catholic Pastoral Contract Ahead of Holy Week ‘Incomprehensible,’ says U.S. Military Archbishop

By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — Hours before Holy Week began, a U.S. major military medical center ended a long-standing contract to provide Catholic pastoral care to veterans and service members, violating their religious freedom, according to Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services.

On March 31, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, issued a “cease and desist” order to Holy Name College Friary, a community of Franciscan priests and brothers who have served the center’s service members and veterans for close to two decades, the archdiocese said in an April 7 news release.

The center is one of several major medical facilities operated within the U.S. Department of Defense and the Defense Health Agency, and so falls within the pastoral jurisdiction of the military archdiocese. According to officials with the archdiocese, the March 31 order directed Catholic priests to halt religious services on the center’s grounds, ahead of the church’s commemorations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.

The news release from the archdiocese stated the contract for pastoral care was “awarded to a secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of the work” required. In comments to OSV News late on April 7, Archbishop Broglio faulted those overseeing contracting at Walter Reed “for not doing their homework on what it takes to ensure Catholic coverage.”

Sources familiar with the contract told OSV News the cost differences between the nonreligious contractor and the Franciscans were minimal.

The archdiocese has not received a response from the medical center to inquiries placed by its legal counsel.

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.

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