The Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services is accusing Walter Reed National Military Medical Center of violating patients’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion by terminating a contract with Catholic priests ahead of Holy Week.
The archdiocese claimed on Friday that Walter Reed — the nation’s preeminent military hospital that also serves congressmen and presidents — issued a ‘cease and desist order’ against the Holy Name College Friary, a Franciscan community of priests that had served at the center for nearly 20 years.
As part of the order, the archdiocese said, the Catholic priests were directed to halt religious services at the hospital ahead of the Church’s commemorations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.
It instead contracted with a for-profit secular firm that Archbishop Timothy Broglio says will not be able to provide Catholic patients with adequate care.
But executives at Walter Reed said their contract with Holy Name is just ‘under review,’ and claimed that it would still hold Easter services with an ordained Catholic priest.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center is being accused of violating patients’ First Amendment rights to freely express their religion
Archdiocese for the Military Services officials say the hospital issued a ‘cease and desist’ order to the Holy Name College Friary, a Franciscan community of priests that had served at the center for nearly 20 years
In a statement to the Church’s followers, Broglio slammed Walter Reed’s decision to kick out the Catholic priests as ‘incomprehensible.’
‘It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,’ he said, adding: ‘This is a classic case where the adage, “If it is not broken, do not fix it” applies.
‘I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service,’ he continued, claiming that Walter Reed’s decision infringes on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.
He noted that only ordained Catholic priests can carry out certain practices — like the celebration of Mass and the administration of Confession.’
Archbishop Timothy Broglio slammed the move as ‘incomprehensible’
‘Especially during Holy Week, the lack of adequate Catholic pastoral care causes untold and irreparable harm to Catholics who are hospitalized and therefore a captive population whose religious rights the government has a constitutional duty to provide for and protect,’ the archdiocese said.
‘I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected,’ Broglio added.
He said that an attorney for the archdiocese has reached out to the hospital ‘numerous times throughout Holy Week asking for the Franciscans’ Catholic ministry to be reinstated at least through Easter,’ but have not received a response.
As a result, the church officials say, there is only one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to the hospital, ‘but he is in the process of separating from the Army.’
Officials at Walter Reed have said they will continue to hold Catholic Easter services
Officials from Walter Reed, however, say they are continuing to meet their patients’ spiritual needs, noting that the hospital is a ‘welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full rang of religious, spiritual and cultural needs.’
In a statement on Saturday, hospital officials said ‘Catholic Easter services will be provided to those who wish to attend.
‘Services will include a celebration of Mass and the administration of Confession by an ordained Catholic priest,’ it noted, adding: ‘For many years, a Catholic ordained priest has been on staff at WRNMMC providing religious sacraments to service members, veterans and their loved ones. There has also been a pastoral care contract in place to supplement those services provided.’
But, the statement said, officials are now reviewing the pastoral care contract ‘to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.’
‘Although at this time, the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday, parishioners of the Diocese while patients at our facilities may still seek their services,’ the hospital administrators said.