Military Priests Face Arrest for Celebrating Mass in Defiance of Shutdown
By Steve Skojec
Our government is out of control.
First, it was the World War II veterans who had to break down barriers to see the open air, un-attended memorial erected in their honor. A memorial which is on public land but is supported – including the National Park Service fee – with private funds. This week there was more security surrounding this memorial — just to keep elderly veterans out — than there was at our embassy in Benghazi the night it was attacked.
And for what? To inflict as much pain as possible through this government shutdown. It’s called Washington Monument Syndrome, and it’s pure political theater.
But now there’s a story just coming to light that takes things even further. According the Archdiocese for Military Services, GS and contract priests (who are paid by the federal government as independent contractors in places where there aren’t enough active-duty priests to meet the needs of Catholics in military service) are being forbidden from celebrating Mass, even on a volunteer basis.
If they violate this restriction, they face possible arrest. FOR CELEBRATING MASS.
From John Schlageter, General Counsel for the Archdiocese:
There is a chronic shortage of active duty Catholic chaplains. While roughly 25% of the military is Catholic, Catholic priests make up only about 8% of the chaplain corps. That means approximately 275,000 men and women in uniform, and their families, are served by only 234 active-duty priests. The temporary solution to this shortage is to provide GS and contract priests. These men are employed by the government to ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present. With the government shutdown, GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer. During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.
As an example, if a Catholic family has a Baptism scheduled at the base chapel at Langley AFB this weekend, unless they can locate a priest who is not a GS or contract priest, they should consider it cancelled. Likewise, a Marine who attends Sunday Mass at the Quantico Chapel will have to go elsewhere this weekend. If you are a Catholic stationed in Japan or Korea and are served by a Contract or GS priest, unless you speak Korean or Japanese and can find a church nearby, then you have no choice but to go without Mass this weekend. Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract or GS priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended at those worldwide installations served by contract and GS priests.
At a time when the military is considering alternative sources of funding for sporting events at the service academies, no one seems to be looking for funding to ensure the Free Exercise rights of Catholics in uniform. Why not?
This shutdown impacts Catholics in the military worldwide. In the DC-metro area, it specifically impacts bases like Quantico. On the Facebook page for the Archdiocese, Catholic military members commenting on the story are not happy. Comments include:
“This is outrageous!!! Especially threatening them with arrest to voluntarily do their job.”
“Unbelievable! I was worried about this because our priest is contracted as well. It is bad enough to be furloughed but to not have a Mass to attend, is a real downer,”
“Just one example, a couple is getting married tomorrow at a large Air Force Base that is staffed by a Contract priest. That priest did all of their marriage prep, and has gotten to know the couple very well over the past few months. But with the shutdown, he cannot perform their wedding. Instead of the priest that the couple has come to know and love, an active duty priest has to be sent in to perform the wedding of two people who are strangers to him and he to them.”
” Is anyone up there going to start a protest?! A rosary ?!?!? A nice Catholic riot maybe?! PLEEEAAASSEEE?! SOMEONE?! ANYONE?! Any real Carholics out there?!!!!???!”
This is outrageous. It is a violation of the First Amendment. It is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion to order priests under penalty of arrest that they cannot volunteer their time to offer Mass to the faithful on base. This cannot be allowed to stand.
As of this writing, I have not yet received a response to my inquiry to the Archdiocese for Military Services as to what specific action steps we can take to get this problem addressed. Until we have a path to resolution, please share this story as widely as possible. Make people aware that Catholics serving our country are being forcibly denied access to the sacraments. These are the lengths the administration and the Democrats in Congress are willing to go to in order to continue inflicting as much pain as possible on the American people during the shutdown.
UPDATE – 10/4/2013 @ 12:34PM: I received a response from the Military Archdiocese. Mr. Schlageter writes with a correction and additional information from the original release:
There will be Mass at Quantico because of the terms of service of the contract for the priest at Quantico. Nonetheless, 3 Masses have been cancelled at local Fort Belvoir. I have been told but cannot confirm that Mass has been cancelled at the Navy yard. In one situation a couple that is to be married at an Air Force Base this Saturday and did all of their preparation with a GS priest will now be married by an active duty priest who is being taken in from somewhere else. This means that the priest that the couple got to know over the past few months will not be able to witness their marriage. One priest in Virginia Beach will be celebrating Mass in a local park off base.
We are also learning that some chapel musicians will not be able to play at Sunday Mass during the furlough.
I think that the best thing people can do is to get the message out. I would suggest that they contact their local members of Congress, but in those cases where parishes are located next to a military base that will not have Sunday Mass, that people be kind and welcoming to their military brothers and sisters and their families.
Please do contact your local member of Congress and welcome our service members into your parishes. And continue to spread the message about these restrictions.
UPDATE – 10/4/2013 @ 2:32PM:
I just got word that while the Navy Yard is staffed with an active-duty priest who will not be impacted by the shutdown, the GS priest at the nearby Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling is furloughed. Since Anacostia-Bolling has the larger chapel, the active duty priest from Navy Yard will be celebrating Sunday Mass at Anacostia-Bolling instead of Navy Yard. The Catholic Community at the Navy Yard has been invited to attend Sunday Mass at Anacostia Bolling.