National outrage is growing over news that the U.S. military is threatening to discipline or arrest any furloughed Catholic chaplains if they attempt to say Mass on bases during the government shutdown.
Fox News is reporting that the military has furloughed up to 50 Catholic priest-chaplains and is banning them from celebrating weekend Masses.
Sources told Fox that one furloughed Air Force chaplain was told he was barred from engaging in any ministry activity and could not go on base or even enter his chapel offices during the shutdown. When he volunteered to say Mass without pay, he was told he could be subjected to disciplinary action and even fired if he did so.
“In very practical terms it means Sunday Mass won’t be offered,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services told Fox’s Todd Starnes. “If someone has a baptism scheduled, it won’t be celebrated.”
Broglio explained that the military installations impacted by the shutdown are served by non-active-duty priests who were hired as government contractors due to a shortage of active Catholic chaplains.
“They were told they cannot function because those are contracted services and since there’s no funding they can’t do it – even if they volunteer,” he said.
John Schlageter, general counsel for the archdiocese, told Starnes that any furloughed priests who volunteer their services could face big trouble.
“During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so,” he said in a written statement.
Thus far, the archbishop knows of one priest who was forbidden to officiate at the wedding of a couple he had been counseling and another who was forced to celebrate Mass for the faithful in a park off-base.
The Archbishop sees no reason why priests can’t volunteer to serve without pay during the shutdown.
“Most of us don’t look to see that we’re going to be paid before we do something,” he said. “They are not being allowed to volunteer even to meet the needs of the faithful.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said it was due to the prevailing antipathy of the current administration against Catholicism.
“In American history there has been no administration more anti-Catholic than the Obama administration,” Donohue told Starnes. “For them to deny Catholic men and women the opportunity of the sacraments and to deal with their prayerful vocations is really a stunning statement. . . . This idea of punishing Catholics in the military – denying them their priests – is consistent with the animus this administration has demonstrated,” he said.
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, agrees and calls these developments disturbing.
“Catholic military personnel should not have their religious liberties held hostage by this funding crisis,” Crews told Starnes. “I find it alarming that these priests cannot even volunteer to provide services without threat of arrest.”
Archbishop Broglio does not know who is making these decisions and is being told it “keeps getting kicked up to a higher level.”
Thus far, Starnes has been unable to get a return call from the Pentagon or the Air Force public affairs office.
Starnes finds it difficult to believe that some kind of compromise can’t be reached to allow Catholics to keep practicing their faith during the shutdown, especially when the military was able to come up with enough money to fund their football games this past weekend.
“It’s a sad contrast when we can let a football game go on but we won’t let a priest go on base and celebrate Mass,” Broglio said.
Starnes adds, “So in President Obama’s world – college football players are essential but Catholic priests are not.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400-1 on Saturday to restore funding to the military chaplaincy programs that will allow priests and other ministers to conduct services during the shutdown. The measure is now stalled in the Senate.
Update 10/08/13: According to CatholicVote.org, John Schlageter has confirmed that Masses have indeed been cancelled due to the shutdown and is asking the faithful to help spread the word about this ever-worsening situation.
“I think that the best thing people can do is to get the message out,” he told CatholicVote. “I would suggest that they [concerned citizens] 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.”
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