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Walter Reed will allow priests to minister once more

Crucifix with stethoscope

Freedom Studio | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 05/03/23

The National Military Medical Center said it would review the new contract with a secular firm to ensure Catholics can access their religious services.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center has stated that Catholic priests will be permitted to resume ministering to patients. The announcement came after a controversial decision to end a two-decade contract with the Franciscan community of Holy Name College Friary during Holy Week, in favor of a private company, Mack Global, which does not employ Catholic priests and thus cannot provide Catholic services. 

Aleteia previously reported on the end of Walter Reed’s contract with the Franciscans in April. At that time Walter Reed organizers stated that the “pastoral care contract is under review,” and Archbishop Timothy Broglio, of the Military Archdiocese, reported that Walter Reed had told him “that the situation will be rectified.” 

According to a new report from CBN, Walter Reed has relented, allowing Catholic pastoral services to resume at the medical center. While there are currently no Masses being celebrated at the Walter Reed chapel, patients are still able to request a visit from a Catholic priest.

Walter Reed also noted that the new contract with Mack Global is under review to “ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.” The offerings of Mack Global, according to their website, include “chapel support, religious education coordinators, non-personal chapel support, hospice chaplains, and other religious staff.” 

In an interview with CBN, Michael Berry, director of Military Affairs at the First Liberty Institute, explained that these services are not concurrent to the Catholic faith, as Mack Global is not affiliated with the Church: 

“They are not under the authority or the offices of the Catholic Church, so they cannot provide Catholic services in the same way that a Franciscan friary can,” Berry noted. “Because they – the Franciscans – are under the authority of the Catholic Church. So this is actually depriving Catholic service members, again wounded warriors, and people who are at Walter Reed recovering from their injuries or illnesses. This is depriving [them] of their constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion.”

Berry went on to lament that the decision to shut the Catholics out came on Holy Week. The situation has also drawn the attention of a dozen members of Congress, who have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asking why a contract for religious services was allowed to go to a private, secular firm. The lawmakers wrote: 

“We have made promises to our service members and veterans that if they take care of us, we will take care of them,” the letter said. “This extends to not just providing quality healthcare at our nation’s military medical facilities, but by also providing the ability to freely practice their religion to those under the care at these facilities.”

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