Despite Saturday’s 400-to-1 House vote in favor, there’s still no word from the Senate on the reinstatement of priests affected by furlough at American military installations. I’ve heard from several current and former service members who have either seen their chapels closed or would have been unable to make it to Sunday Mass without access to alternate transportation. Joshua Mercer mentioned some others this morning.
Of course, we’ve seen how flexible the shutdown restrictions really are. Despite the theatrical (and in many cases completely unnecessary) closing of national parks, memorials, and monuments, the National Mall was not only opened yesterday, but a giant stage was erected, all to host a pro-immigration rally organized by — you guessed it — friends of the Obama Administration. And naturally, President Obama’s preferred golf course at Andrews Air Force Base remains open, despite the commissary being closed. That the ongoing unnecessary furlough of those serving the spiritual needs of our nation’s service members continues is, simply put, an affront to decency.
This morning, I got an email from a retired Marine Major whom I know personally. A priest he served with — Navy Chaplain Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, S.J. — has been impacted by the furlough, and was threatened with arrest if he celebrated Mass on base. Fr. Shaughnessy is assigned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in the Virginia Beach area (formerly NAB Little Creek). According to the base’s website, it is “the major east coast operating base supporting Overseas Contingency Operations”. I’ve also been told that it is a base where at least two Navy SEAL teams are stationed.
Fr. Shaughnessy is no stranger to conflict. He has served in active combat situations around the world, and his efforts to minister to soldiers caught in a firefight in Iraq were featured in this AOL series, Home of the Brave:
For a man who has offered sacraments under fire, one imagines government bureaucracy is not a very intimidating challenge. Undeterred by the restrictions he faced against saying Mass on base, Fr. Shaughnessy found a way to serve the soldiers he is so dedicated to. The following email was sent to chapel parishioners at the base last week:
“Father Shaughnessy asked me to send you the following which explains the impact of the government shutdown on Mass this weekend on Base. Please give this information to those in your ministries and others in your network of parish members.
NOTE : If by some miracle Congress ends the government shutdown, then Mass will return to its normal schedule.
Catholic Mass has been declared non-essential by the Base, so contractor priests are not allowed to perform Mass on military installations during the government shut down.
I am however required by the Church to conduct a personal Mass daily, so I invite you to join me for an outdoor Mass at Bayville Farms Park Pavilion 1 as I fulfill my religious obligations at:
1730 (5:30pm) Saturday Oct 5
0900 (9am) Sunday Oct 6
1230 p.m. Sunday October 6
Father Paul Shaughnessy, S.J.
All I can say is, GOOD FOR FR. SHAUGHNESSY! But note the language: “If by some miracle Congress ends the government shutdown, then Mass will return to its normal schedule.” Because that’s what Catholics on base have to pray for to get their sacraments back. I’ve heard rumblings that some military chaplains feel as though they are being increasingly targeted under this administration. Creative priests like Fr. Shaughnessy are finding ways to fulfill their priestly obligations without directly violating the legal restrictions put in their way, but it shouldn’t have to come to that.
Some have argued that no priest would be arrested for celebrating Mass, and that the ADA has never been very strictly enforced. That priests are reporting being directly threatened with arrest tells us that this time, it’s different. We’ve already seen veterans arrested for refusing to leave a war memorial in New York – not the first time it’s happened, but a particularly sensitive issue with news of the barricades and police presence in place to keep our veterans away from memorials in their honor. A jogger was fined $100 for just running through Valley Forge. Private businesses and homeowners that lease space or have property on federal land are being barricaded and kept from doing business or even going home. Cones were placed along the side of the road near Mount Rushmore to keep motorists from pulling over to view the monument when passing by. Parts of the Florida Bay have been closed down to boats and fishermen. The Grand Canyon is closed despite the State of Arizona offering to pay to keep it open. Evidently they’ve found enough staff to fine people for entering the park, however.
These draconian measures are intended to inflict pain on the American people. Just as the President tried to talk down the markets last week — an extremely irresponsible thing to do for a man warning about the impact of US economic actions on the global financial system — his administration and those who side with his stance of “we will not negotiate” continue to rebuff attempts to restore normalcy and ease the pressure on those most impacted by the ongoing partial shutdown.
We need to keep the pressure on them. Keep sharing these stories with your friends and social networks, keep contacting your members of Congress, keep fighting the good fight. This is a critical time. We need to stand together.