A prohibition on U.S. Navy personnel attending indoor religious services off base is “particularly odious to Catholics,” according the Archbishop for the Military Services.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio was responding to reports that some commands of the U.S. Navy have required service members to sign that they have received the orders on the prohibition, meaning that those who disobey will be held accountable. The orders also add that “civilian personnel, including families, are discouraged from” indoor church services, as well.

The orders were made in an effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“A few nights ago I watched ‘Silence,’ a movie about the persecution of Catholics in Japan in the 1600’s. The persecution was systematic and destined to eradicate the faith from the islands. While the current situation in the U.S. is certainly not one of persecution, the movie does invite the viewer to recognize values, determine how important they are, and decide what value merits a sacrifice, even the ultimate sacrifice,” the archbishop wrote on July 5.

Broglio said the orders are “particularly odious to Catholics, because frequently there is no longer a Catholic program on naval installations due to budgetary constraints or many installation chapels are still closed — even though many of them could well ensure appropriate social distancing.”

The archbishop said that after receiving this information, he immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains’ Office, which told him they have been unable to offer any relief from these provisions. Broglio added that his attempt to contact the Chief of Naval Operations has not even been acknowledged.

“Of course, the Navy cannot legally prohibit family members from frequenting religious services off base. Those family members return home where the military member lives. What is the protective effect of the prohibition for the Navy personnel? Zero,” he said.

“Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics. It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. Certainly, the Navy personnel who fall under this restriction are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, because no one can be required to do what is impossible,” the archbishop continued.

The U.S. Navy has been working to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 across the force with the goal of creating a “COVID free bubble” around units prior to, and while, deployed.

The dangers of the pandemic were highlighted in late March, when the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt alerted the Navy to the disease’s spread on his ship, where eventually over 1,100 sailors tested positive for the coronavirus, with one dying.

Hospitalman Bryce L. Albarracin, left, with Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Norfolk, performs a nasal swab on Master-at-Arms 2nd Class William L. Pittman, with Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center, during COVID-19 testing conducted in Norfolk, Virginia. (Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Natalia Murillo/Released.)

On June 25, the Navy announced it had established a surveillance testing program, called Sentinel Surveillance Testing (SST), to test asymptomatic service members for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“Our nation is entering a dangerous period of complacency and COVID fatigue that we can’t succumb to. The military must not let its guard down—the Navy in particular,” said Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans, and Strategy.

In his statement, Broglio noted that Catholic churches have gone great lengths to ensure social distancing in seating, receiving Holy Communion, and adjusting the liturgy to avoid any contagion.

“I wonder why the Navy has decided to prohibit the faithful from something, which even the Commander in Chief has called an essential service,” referring to declarations by President Donald Trump.

“It seems tragic to offer these reflections on the Independence holiday when we honor the bravery of those who forged this Nation to ensure self-evident truths about the endowment by the Creator of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Should those who swear to protect and defend the Constitution be obliged to surrender their First Amendment Rights?” Broglio concluded.

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