Some Catholic priests are not allowed to offer communion and other religious services on military installations because of the government shutdown. They could even get arrested for volunteering their services. Some Protestant services on military bases may also be affected.
There is currently a shortage of Catholic military chaplains. Because of this, many Catholics in the military are being served by what are called contract or GS (government services) priests, rather than active duty military chaplains.
The way the law is written, certain GS and contract priests are not allowed to minister to military personnel on military bases during the government shutdown. They are not even allowed to volunteer, and could technically be arrested if they try, according to John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.
The only GS and contract priests affected are those that do not currently have a contract. Those who already have a contract for the new fiscal year can still minister on bases, Schlageter explained to The Christian Post.
While it is not clear whether authorities would actually arrest a priest for simply offering communion, they are apparently not taking their chances. Schlageter said that many of these priests are finding off-site locations for their religious services. One of them, for instance, will be at a public park near the base where he serves.
Though Protestant Christians do not face the same chaplain shortages, some Protestant services could be impacted, Ron Crews, executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, explained to The Christian Post. Some Protestant military services use contract employees for certain positions, such as organists and nursery workers. At the time of publication, his organization was trying to find out more information on the impact of the government shutdown on Protestant services at military bases.
In a statement provided to The Christian Post, Crews said he hopes the Department of Defense will provide an exemption for the priests.
"It is my hope that Department of Defense leadership will see the need to allow contract priests to continue to serve Roman Catholic congregations where there are no military priests assigned. I find it alarming that these priests cannot even volunteer to provide services without threat of arrest. If the DoD can find a way to allow sporting events to continue then surely there is a way to provide an exemption for priests to serve until full funding is restored. Catholic military personnel should not have their religious liberties held hostage by this funding crisis," he said.