The Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services says Walter Reed National Medical Military Medical Center is denying veterans and service members their religious rights after ordering a community of local priests to cease providing pastoral care at the hospital days before the start of Holy Week.
The archdiocese said in a statement that Walter Reed issued a “cease and desist order” to Holy Name College, a group of Franciscan priests who have provided religious services to the hospital for nearly two decades, after the government terminated the friary’s contract on March 31.
“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio in a statement condemning the move.
The order was issued just before Holy Week, considered to be the most sacred days on the liturgical calendar in which Christians observe Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The archdiocese said the contract that was previously held by Holy Name College was awarded to a “secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract.”
The archdiocese said that there is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed, leaving the hospital with what they say is inadequate staffing to provide services during Holy Week and beyond.
“I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service,” Archbishop Broglio said. “I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.”
The archdiocese said it has asked that the Franciscans’ ministry be reinstated at Walter Reed through Easter but has not received a response from Walter Reed.
Walter Reed did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.