Catholic Priests Remain on Furlough Due to Government Shutdown
Catholic military personnel facing 2nd Sunday without Mass
WASHINGTON, D.C.—With no end in sight to the federal government shutdown, dozens of Catholic priests under contract with the United States military remain on furlough, denied access to the bases and military populations they serve. Mr. John Schlageter, General Counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS), said that if the shutdown continues through the weekend, as now seems likely, those furloughed priests will not be able to celebrate Sunday Mass. Additionally, unless the issue is resolved, Confessions, Baptisms and any other sacraments celebrated by furloughed priests will be denied for the second week in a row. As many as 50 U.S. military installations around the world are affected.
Mr. Schlageter said:
“This means those Catholics in uniform served by a furloughed contract priest will again be unable to attend Mass in the base chapel this coming Sunday and every Sunday for as long as the government is shut down or until another resolution is found. This sad state of affairs is contrary to our nation’s most basic principles. Military personnel enjoy, like all Americans, the First Amendment guarantee of the ‘Free Exercise’ of their particular religious faith. That right continues to be denied for Catholics.”
Active-duty Catholic Chaplains, who were never affected by the Oct. 1 shutdown, are still providing their pastoral services as usual. Other priests who serve the military in a civilian capacity as “General Schedule” (GS) employees of the Department of Defense were brought back to work this week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a recall of all DoD personnel. Furloughed contract priests, however, remain in limbo. Under an 1870 law, the Anti-Deficiency Act, they are prohibited from providing contractual services in the event of a government shutdown.
Legislation meant to address this legal stumbling block and restore those contract priests to pastoral service is now winding its way through Congress. Last night, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent an amended version of House Concurrent Resolution 58. The resolution, introduced by Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and passed 400-1 by the House on Saturday, calls for continued performance of religious services on military installations during the shutdown. The amended resolution has been sent back to the House for further consideration and possible final passage. The congressional action follows publication of an op-ed by Mr. Schlageter bringing public attention to the shutdown’s impact on the Catholic military population. Pending final action, the contract priests remain on furlough.
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, called on the nation’s leaders for immediate action to resolve the impasse.
Archbishop Broglio said:
"It seems beyond the pale of belief that elected officials are taking so long to resolve this denial of constitutional rights to the men and women in uniform. It is not a controversial issue, but merely a lacuna in an old law that could be fixed to respond to current situations. I continue to hope for the good will of those in Congress and the Administration."
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