Civilian Catholic priests who serve the U.S. Military Archdiocese on a contract basis have been deemed “non-essential” and ordered to stop working during the government shutdown, resulting in canceled Masses and headaches for families planning weddings and baptisms.
Meanwhile, priests who have offered to work for free during the shutdown have been refused and threatened with disciplinary action and, according to one archdiocesan representative, even possible arrest.
John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for Military Services, U.S.A., explained in an op-ed, “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.”
Priests who have offered to work for free during the shutdown have been refused and threatened with disciplinary action and, according to one archdiocesan representative, even possible arrest.
Added Schlageter, “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.”
Lt. Col. Laurel P. Tingley, an Air Force spokesman, told The Blaze, “Any civilian employee who volunteers their time to the government while furloughed is violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, as is any supervisor who allows an employee to do so. The ADA provides for disciplinary action for individuals who are found in violation.” Tungley did not confirm whether disciplinary action included arrest.
On Saturday, in response to the controversy, the House passed a bill 400-1 to reinstate furloughed chaplains on a volunteer basis.
“Is it really the policy of this administration to make church services illegal? To threaten Catholic priests with jail?” asked Rep. Tim Huelskamp during a debate on the legislation.
While active duty priests have not been furloughed, there are only 234 of them serving 275,000 Catholic service members and their families, according to Schlageter. The contract priests serve on bases where there wouldn’t otherwise be enough priests to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners.
Wherever possible, active duty priests have scrambled to fill the gaps left by their civilian counterparts, but in many cases, that won’t be enough.
Schlageter told Catholic Vote, “Three 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.”
Schlageter recommended those affected or concerned by the furlough call their Congress members to complain.
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