Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) terminated a Catholic pastoral care contract with a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and friars during Holy Week, barring them from providing religious services to the faithful throughout the most sacred days of the Christian calendar. In a statement Friday, the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) decried the move as a violation of First Amendment Right to Free Exercise of Religion.
@WRBethesda has issued a cease and desist order directing Catholic priests to cease any religious services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, during Holy Week, the most sacred of days in the Christian faith. https://t.co/sS7279MTTm
— Military Archdiocese (@MilArchUSA) April 7, 2023
The naval hospital has issued a “cease and desist order” to Holy Name College, directing their Catholic priests and brothers to cease any religious services at Walter Reed Bethesda. Holy Name College has provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades.
“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,” the Archdiocese for the Military Services noted in its statement.
The Franciscans’ contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was terminated on March 31, 2023, 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.
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, condemned the move as an encroachment on the First Amendment guarantee of the Free Exercise of Religion. Archbishop 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.”
Ms. Elizabeth A. Tomlin, Esq., General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), has reached out to the contracting officers at Walter Reed numerous times throughout Holy Week asking for the Franciscans’ Catholic ministry to be reinstated at least through Easter. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has not responded to these requests from the Archdiocese.
While Walter Reed’s chaplain office claims Catholic care is being provided during Holy Week, the AMS maintains that without Catholic priests present at the medical center, service members and veterans are being denied the constitutional right to practice their religion.
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is one of many medical centers within the Department of Defense and Defense Health Agency whose pastoral care lies within AMS jurisdiction. 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.
WRNMMC in recent years has fully embraced Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies, creating a DEI Council and speaker’s panel during the summer of 2020. Walter Reed Bethesda hosted its first three DEI speaker’s panels in the summer of 2021, with discussions “focused on race and diversity, the experiences of WRB team members who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and transgender services at the medical center.”
The Director of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is Captain Felix A. Bigby. The Chief of Staff is Captain Kelly O. Elmore, and Command Senior Enlisted Leader is Command Master Chief Trey J. Hauptmann.