NEW YORK – A few months after a contract dispute ended the services of a community of Franciscan priests at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Archdiocese for the Military Services has announced the issue has been resolved and the priests have returned to their ministry.
Back in April, the medical center chose not to renew a contract with Franciscan priests from the Holy Name College Friary in Silver Spring, Maryland, who had provided pastoral care to service members and veterans at the hospital for more than two decades. Instead, the contract was slated to go to a secular defense contractor.
The move prompted backlash from Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services and even some congressional leaders, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Roger Marshall of Kansas, which prompted the medical center to table the decision and launch a review.
The archdiocese announced June 15 that to “confront the concerns” expressed by Broglio and others, the U.S. Defense Health Agency had reopened bidding in May, and on June 8 awarded the Franciscan priests a new contract to continue their ministry.
Specifically, the new contract has a team of five priests taking turns on-site six days a week to minister to those hospitalized, according to the archdiocese. They returned to work June 14.
Broglio said in a statement that he is grateful the matter is resolved.
“Of course, it is a source of great joy that the Franciscans have returned to the medical center and care for patients and staff there,” Broglio said.
At the time the contract was initially voided, Broglio had hinted at freedom of religion issues behind the decision to pull the plug on the Franciscans.
“The archdiocese 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,” he said in April.
“The refusal to provide adequate pastoral care while awarding a contract for Catholic ministry to a for-profit company that has no way of providing Catholic priests to the medical center is a glaring violation of service members’ and veterans’ Right to the Free Exercise of Religion,” Broglio’s office said.
Walter Reed, in a lengthy statement of its own, said it “honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs.”
For their part, the Franciscans emphasized how much they valued the ministry at Walter Reed.
“It has been an incredible privilege – and, really, a very powerful ministerial experience – for the Franciscan Friars to be invited into the lives of these true American heroes who have sacrificed so much for our country,” they said in a statement.
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