Officials with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center have not explained their controversial decision to end a longstanding contract for Catholic pastoral care services at the beginning of Holy Week.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese for Military Services strongly criticized the nation’s most well-known military hospital for issuing a “cease and desist order” to Holy Name College, a community of Franciscan Catholic priests and brothers who have provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at Walter Reed for two decades.
According to the Catholic leaders, the U.S. military has awarded a new contract for Catholic pastoral care to a for-profit secular company that the archdioceses believes cannot provide adequate care.
Baptist News Global inquired with the communications office at Walter Reed and got no response.
Baptist News Global inquired with the communications office at Walter Reed and got no response. BNG has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Defense Health Agency seeking to learn the name of the new contractor, the dollar value of the contact and the reasoning for ending the contract with Holy Name College.
After original publication of this article, the communications office at Walter Reed sent BNG a statement similar to what has been published in other news outlets. Despite being asked for specific clarification, the statement did not say who was awarded the new pastoral care contract or why a change was made.
It did say the medical center “is a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual and cultural needs.” In addition to the one Catholic priest — who is soon departing military service — the center “is part of the National Capital Region Health Market and can leverage Catholic priests assigned to other defense organizations within the region,” the statement said.
The statement concuded: “At this time, the pastoral care contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.”
No news outlet anywhere covering this story has offered any explanation for why the change was made or named the company that was awarded the contract. Nor have officials at Walter Reed indicated what deficiencies, if any, caused them to abandon the longstanding relationship with Holy Name College.
No news outlet anywhere covering this story has offered any explanation for why the change was made or named the company that was awarded the contract
The U.S. military offers pastoral care from chaplains in all branches of service. These chaplains represent all major faith groups. Because of the scope of the spiritual care needed at this premier medical center, the work of staff chaplains has been supplemented by contract spiritual care providers.
The Archdiocese for Military Services said Holy Name College had received a “cease and desist order” from the medical center as Holy Week began.
“The Franciscans’ contract for Catholic pastoral care was terminated on March 31, 2023, and awarded to a secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract,” according to an archdiocese statement. “As a result, adequate pastoral care is not available for service members and veterans in the United States’ largest Defense Health Agency medical center either during Holy Week or beyond. There is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he is in the process of separating from the Army.”
“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 Broglio. “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. I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.”
Legal counsel for the archdiocese also reached out to the medical center administration “numerous times” and got no response, the statement said.
Catholic News Agency reported Walter Reed officials gave them a brief statement saying the pastoral care contract “is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.”
For Catholics, even more so than other Christian denominations, providing pastoral care requires licensed or ordained officiants who would not be available to a secular contractor.
The unnamed firm awarded the contract “is incapable of providing priestly care,” Broglio said. It’s like “hiring a brain surgeon who didn’t go to med school.”
Whatever the origin and reasoning for the change — Walter Reed officials have been silent for a week now — Republican Congressmen put the blame on President Joe Biden who is, ironically, a Catholic.
The administration’s silence gave an opening for Marjorie Taylor Greene and Marco Rubio and Laura Ingraham — among other conservatives — to say the expulsion of Catholic priests from Walter Reed is part of a wider pattern of the Biden administration attacking religion.