Catholic chaplains have returned to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center two months after their contract’s expiration sparked outrage among advocates for religious freedom. According to CBN News, Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, Timothy Broglio, announced on Tuesday that the U.S. Defense Health Agency issued a five-year contract to the Franciscans at Holy Name College and Friary in Silver Spring, Maryland. The new contract awarded to the Franciscans allows five friars to take turns every six days ministering to Catholics being hospitalized at Walter Reed.
When the chaplains’ contract expired two months ago, Walter Reed opted to sign with the secular defense agency, Mack Global LLC, which listed “chapel support, religious education coordinators, non-personal chapel support, hospice chaplains, and other religious staff.” Despite this list of what was deemed acceptable qualifications, Archbishop Broglio argued that the staff “‘cannot provide the necessary service’ of a Catholic ministry.”
Archbishop Broglio shared, “I am very grateful to the Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain Thomas L. Solhjem, MG, USA, for his personal intervention and interest in resolving the question of Catholic pastoral care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He moved quickly to assure the presence of additional Catholic priests from the Army Reserves as soon as the contract with the Franciscan Friars ended. He also made certain that the needs of Catholics were addressed in the renegotiation of the contract.”
As Catholics and religious freedom advocates celebrate the return of the chaplains to Walter Reed, this case is another recent win for religious liberty. Despite efforts to replace Catholic chaplains with a secular defense agency, Walter Reed considered the religious freedom of their patients and the near 20 year long contract with the Franciscan friars to provide religious services to their Catholic patients.