NEW YORK – In response to claims from the Archdiocese for the Military Services that it has violated the rights of hospitalized Catholics’ by terminating a pastoral services contract with a community of Franciscan priests, Walter Reed National Medical Center maintained that the contract simply expired and was then awarded to someone else, and that Catholic services will still be provided at the hospital.

Walter Reed said a “cease and desist order” was issued to Holy Name College Friary in Silver Springs, Maryland, a community of Franciscan priests who have long provided pastoral care services at the hospital, on April 4. The order followed the priests’ contract ending on March 31, and was only issued after the priests continued to provide services after that date, according to the hospital.

Walter Reed awarded the contract to Mack Global LLC, a government contractor that bills itself as “providing a diverse range of services and products to government agencies and private companies.” The decision drew the ire of both the archdiocese and politicians alike.

In an April 12 statement to Crux, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said “clearly, awarding a contract for Catholic Pastoral Care to a contractor that cannot provide priestly care was an error” that he expects will be fixed.

“The Archdiocese, whose primary concern is the pastoral care of individuals, has been assured that the situation will be rectified and waits to learn of the outcome of the efforts to ensure appropriate care so that the First Amendment rights of patients and staff at the Medical Center will be respected,” Broglio said.

The archbishop previously called the hospital’s decision “incomprehensible” in an April 7 statement, adding that he hopes that “this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.” The archdiocese added that the timing of the move left Catholics at the hospital without adequate pastoral care throughout Holy Week.

On April 11, 11 Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, published a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, writing that “depriving service members and veterans, who are receiving care, of the ability to enter into the Paschal Mystery with priests is utterly unconscionable.”

In an April 11 statement to Crux, Walter Reed pushed back on the archdiocese’s assertion that the contract with the Franciscan priests was terminated. The hospital claims that the contract, which was specifically to provide supplemental pastoral services, had instead expired, and that the priests were aware of the expiration date when it was issued and signed.

Further, Walter Reed said the hospital can continue to provide Catholic pastoral services without a contract, as there is an assigned active-duty Army Catholic priest in its Department of Pastoral Care, who currently provides services that include pastoral counseling and Sacramental Rites. The hospital added that it is also a part of the National Capital Region Health Market and, therefore, can leverage Catholic priests assigned to other defense organizations within the region.

“[Walter Reed] continues to provide religious, spiritual, and emotional care to our patients, staff, and beneficiaries,” the statement reads. “We currently have an ordained Catholic Chaplain on staff who is continuing to provide all of our Catholic services for the hospital.”

The archdiocese, however, claims that the chaplain is in the process of separating from the Army. It is unclear why the archdiocese only has one chaplain assigned to the hospital, and if it plans to, or even can appoint more priests to the role. The archdiocese did not respond to a Crux request for further comment. The specifics of the contract between the Franciscan priests and Walter Reed are unclear. A spokesperson for Walter Reed told Crux they could not share the contract for proprietary reasons.

As for the contract with Mack Global LLC, Walter Reed said the contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of its patients and beneficiaries. The spokesperson later clarified to Crux that the reason Mack Global LLC was awarded the contract is under review, as well.

Mack Global LLC did not respond to a Crux request for comment.

Broglio alluded to the price of the priests’ contract being a factor, alleging that the hospital gave the contract to the lowest bidder, even though that bidder “cannot provide the necessary service.” Someone else with knowledge of the situation told Crux the contract indeed went to the lowest bidder.

In a statement to Crux, a spokesperson for the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province declined to comment on the dispute, instead highlighting the positives from its 20 years of serving Walter Reed.

“While this is certainly disappointing after 20 years of service — after building trust and so many wonderful relationships and friendships — the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province respect the process,” reads the statement.

“The Franciscans have been blessed for two decades of faithfully and joyfully bringing this ministry of presence, peace, and compassionate pastoral care to our service men and women, and their families, in the hopes of helping them to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually during the most difficult and challenging times of their lives.”

This story has been updated. 

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