Biden admin. to review new Catholic military chaplain contract after objections

U.S. service members stand and salute during the playing of the national anthem at the dedication ceremony for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, November 10, 2011.
U.S. service members stand and salute during the playing of the national anthem at the dedication ceremony for the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, November 10, 2011. | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

One of the top military hospitals in the United States will review its decision to abandon a Catholic pastoral care contract in favor of a for-profit secular defense contractor after the Biden administration was blasted for depriving America’s sick and wounded service members of the life-saving care they need.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, says it will review its decision to end a longstanding relationship with Franciscan friars at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

As the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Military Services explained in an April 7 statement, the “community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers” have “provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at Walter Reed for nearly two decades.”

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

“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,” the archdiocese added.

The archdiocese learned of the development after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the hospital.

Archbishop for Military Services Timothy Broglio condemned Walter Reed’s move as “incomprehensible” as the archdiocese emphasized the need for Holy Week and Easter Sunday services.

“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,” he said.

Walter Reed addressed the backlash in a statement to Catholic News Agency Tuesday, insisting that it is “currently reviewing the contract and unable to provide specifics.”

The hospital stressed that it is “a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs,” adding, “We have an ordained Catholic priest on staff and the awarded contract is to provide coverage in case our staff cannot.”

For its part, the archdiocese stated that the Catholic military chaplain in question “is in the process of separating from the Army” and warned that the abandonment of the contract would leave service members without “essential pastoral care.” Religious advocacy groups expressed alarm over the hospital’s decision.

Legal group First Liberty Institute and The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty laid out their concerns in a letter published Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Lieutenant General Telita Crosland, director of the Defense Health Agency.

“It is beyond inexcusable for the Biden Administration to deprive America’s sick and wounded service members [of] the life-saving care they need just to save a few dollars. And to make this decision during Holy Week only pours salt into the wound,” Michael Berry, director of Military Affairs at First Liberty, asserted in a statement.

“For decades, our nation recognized the vital role chaplains play in the military. The Constitution requires the military to ensure that Catholic service members have ready access to sacraments such as communion and confession. Those sacraments can only be administered by clergy within the church, [and] cannot be outsourced to the lowest bidder.”

Bishop Derek Jones, executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, called the hospital’s decision “just the latest insult to America’s service members and the chaplains who serve alongside them.”

The letter sent by Berry and Jones cites the Department of Defense’s Religious Identification and Practice Survey, which finds “Catholics comprise the single largest religious demographic” in the military and that “a substantial majority of service members claim that religion is either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ in their lives.”

“Our military faces many challenges on many fronts. As Americans, we are obligated to ensure that our service members are equipped to perform their noble mission. We urge you to take immediate and affirmative steps to remedy this situation,” the letter read.

In its statement to Catholic News Agency, the medical center identified Virginia-based Mack Global LLC as the new contractor. The company provides telework consulting services, staffing services, transportation and roadway services and professional development and training. The company also provides janitorial supplies, industrial machinery, tactical and training equipment as well as raw materials.

As far as religious staffing goes, the company provides "chapel support, religious education coordinators, non-personal chapel support, hospice chaplains, and other religious staff is an honor and a privilege that we do not take lightly."

"Our team understands what it takes to work with Senior Chaplains, NCOIC, Chapel Operations, and support the chaplain office as well as other personnel," the Mack Global website states, adding that it employs "ordained ministers and experienced leaders as pastors, priests, musicians, teachers, trainers and volunteers who favorably pass the background check application according to the Department of Defense Instruction."

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles