Military Priests Face Arrest for Celebrating Mass in Defiance of Shutdown


Our government is out of control.

First, it was the World War II veterans who had to break down barriers to see the open air, un-attended memorial erected in their honor.  A memorial which is on public land but is supported – including the National Park Service fee – with private funds. This week there was more security surrounding this memorial — just to keep elderly veterans out — than there was at our embassy in Benghazi the night it was attacked.

And for what? To inflict as much pain as possible through this government shutdown. It’s called Washington Monument Syndrome, and it’s pure political theater.

But now there’s a story just coming to light that takes things even further. According the Archdiocese for Military Services, GS and contract priests (who are paid by the federal government as independent contractors in places where there aren’t enough active-duty priests to meet the needs of Catholics in military service) are being forbidden from celebrating Mass, even on a volunteer basis.

If they violate this restriction, they face possible arrest. FOR CELEBRATING MASS. 

From John Schlageter, General Counsel for the Archdiocese:

There is a chronic shortage of active duty Catholic chaplains. While roughly 25% of the military is Catholic, Catholic priests make up only about 8% of the chaplain corps. That means approximately 275,000 men and women in uniform, and their families, are served by only 234 active-duty priests.  The temporary solution to this shortage is to provide GS and contract priests.   These men are employed by the government to ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present.  With the government shutdown, GS and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer.  During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.

As an example, if a Catholic family has a Baptism scheduled at the base chapel at Langley AFB this weekend, unless they can locate a priest who is not a GS or contract priest, they should consider it cancelled.   Likewise, a Marine who attends Sunday Mass at the Quantico Chapel will have to go elsewhere this weekend.  If you are a Catholic stationed in Japan or Korea and are served by a Contract or GS priest, unless you speak Korean or Japanese and can find a church nearby, then you have no choice but to go without Mass this weekend.  Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract or GS priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended at those worldwide installations served by contract and GS priests.

At a time when the military is considering alternative sources of funding for sporting events at the service academies, no one seems to be looking for funding to ensure the Free Exercise rights of Catholics in uniform. Why not?

This shutdown impacts Catholics in the military worldwide. In the DC-metro area, it specifically impacts bases like Quantico. On the Facebook page for the Archdiocese, Catholic military members commenting on the story are not happy. Comments include:

“This is outrageous!!! Especially threatening them with arrest to voluntarily do their job.”

“Unbelievable! I was worried about this because our priest is contracted as well. It is bad enough to be furloughed but to not have a Mass to attend, is a real downer,”

“Just one example, a couple is getting married tomorrow at a large Air Force Base that is staffed by a Contract priest. That priest did all of their marriage prep, and has gotten to know the couple very well over the past few months. But with the shutdown, he cannot perform their wedding. Instead of the priest that the couple has come to know and love, an active duty priest has to be sent in to perform the wedding of two people who are strangers to him and he to them.”

” Is anyone up there going to start a protest?! A rosary ?!?!? A nice Catholic riot maybe?! PLEEEAAASSEEE?! SOMEONE?! ANYONE?! Any real Carholics out there?!!!!???!”

This is outrageous. It is a violation of the First Amendment. It is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion to order priests under penalty of arrest that they cannot volunteer their time to offer Mass to the faithful on base. This cannot be allowed to stand.

As of this writing, I have not yet received a response to my inquiry to the Archdiocese for Military Services as to what specific action steps we can take to get this problem addressed. Until we have a path to resolution, please share this story as widely as possible. Make people aware that Catholics serving our country are being forcibly denied access to the sacraments. These are the lengths the administration and the Democrats in Congress are willing to go to in order to continue inflicting as much pain as possible on the American people during the shutdown.

UPDATE – 10/4/2013 @ 12:34PM: I received a response from the Military Archdiocese. Mr. Schlageter writes with a correction and additional information from the original release:

There will be Mass at Quantico because of the terms of service of the contract for the priest at Quantico.  Nonetheless, 3 Masses have been cancelled at local Fort Belvoir.  I have been told but cannot confirm that Mass has been cancelled at the Navy yard.  In one situation a couple that is to be married at an Air Force Base this Saturday and did all of their preparation with a GS priest will now be married by an active duty priest who is being taken in from somewhere else.  This means that the priest that the couple got to know over the past few months will not be able to witness their marriage.  One priest in Virginia Beach will be celebrating Mass in a local park off base.

We are also learning that some chapel musicians will not be able to play at Sunday Mass during the furlough.

I think that the best thing people can do is to get the message out.  I would suggest that they contact their local members of Congress, but in those cases where parishes are located next to a military base that will not have Sunday Mass, that people be kind and welcoming to their military brothers and sisters and their families.

Please do contact your local member of Congress and welcome our service members into your parishes. And continue to spread the message about these restrictions.

UPDATE – 10/4/2013 @ 2:32PM: 

I just got word that while the Navy Yard is staffed with an active-duty priest who will not be impacted by the shutdown, the GS priest at the nearby Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling is furloughed. Since Anacostia-Bolling has the larger chapel, the active duty priest from Navy Yard will be celebrating Sunday Mass at Anacostia-Bolling instead of Navy Yard. The Catholic Community at the Navy Yard has been invited to attend Sunday Mass at Anacostia Bolling.


Categories:Church News Religious Liberty

  • Eerf

    Who side is Congress on. Start wars that cost in the Trillions with countries with no Mass Destruction Weapons. Shut down Gov. lay off people, stop medical support programs that may cause loss of life. Your telling me we are letting 500 people run the nation in the ground. Now our religion structure of freedom of religion gets threats of putting Innocent priests in jail for Mass? This does not look good…

  • http://O'Connell Molly

    Now blame the President for everything you don’t like about the Republican shut down of the Federal Government? Also how can Catholics be against the ACA which would provide health care for the poor of this country? That seems really cynical and un-christian to me.

    • Samuel

      Molly, I don’t understand how, when (1) the House majority has passed full funding for every government activity except meretriciously designated Affordable Care Act, (2) the Senate has refused to concur, and (3) Mr Obama threatens to veto it if passed you can refer to it as a “Republican shutdown.” Seems to me that the only roadblocks to ending the shutdown have (D) after their names.

      • Tak

        1. Its already a law. 2. The Tea Party Republicans have tried 42 times to appeal and have lost 42 times. This is holding the government for ransom and, even worse, these Tea Partiers are ruining the Republican party. Its a damn shame that this crazy ignorant minority is driving the politics of this great nation.

    • Pamela Eldred

      1. President Obama is the one who refuses to compromise – It is his shut-down. The Republican Congress voted 4 times FOR a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running, but the Democratic-led Senate voted AGAINST it 4 times! 2. A practicing Catholic cannot support the ACA which requires that their taxes pay subsidies for the health insurance exchanges which are required to provide contraceptives and abortifacient birth control free of charge. Christian charity is one thing, but forced sharing of one’s income or assets toward any cause, is not charity. It is stealing!

      • MNValley

        ACA is the law. No compromise is needed as confirmed by the supreme Court.

        How many times has the House voted to repeal ACA?

        How about if the Republicans win an election instead of using terrorism….

    • Paul


      Multiple times the Republicans attempted to negotiate the various penalty taxes and delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats refused. They even called a Congressional Committee of both houses together to hammer something together. The Democrats of the Senate didn’t even bother to show up.

      Catholics aren’t necessarily against the ACA. They are against the HHS Mandate which is tied to the ACA. The HHS Mandate orders Catholic institutions to provide contraceptive, abortifacient, and sterilization services to their employees. And guess where those Catholic institutions get their money? Our parish donations. The mandate forces faithful Catholics to violate their conscience or close their doors due to the excessive penalties and fines that the Obama Administration has built into this monstrosity that is the Affordable Care Act.

      But now to threaten priests with arrest shows just how far the Obama Administration has gone in its anti-Christian and anti-Catholic course. They have decided that Catholics in particular have no right whatsoever to be Catholic and American.

      While Christ said to render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar? At the end of the day, I’d rather be a faithful Catholic than a damned (in the sense of my eternal soul) American.

    • Jake

      Responsibility for the shutdown is shared by both parties. The Democrats could have fully funded the government except for Obamacare (which could have been reviewed and addressed separately). Catholics can and should oppose Obamacare. Not only does it fund evils like abortion, it also reduces the quality of health care. Additionally, the Congressional Budge Office says that in 20 years there will still be 30 million uninsured. I could go on….

      • Tak

        It does not change the quality of healthcare at all. Its a shame how misinformed the public is by our awful media.

    • Karl

      Because, abortion. Carry on.

    • Jeanette Chesney

      Molly, It is not the republicans that are refusing to have discussions. Catholics disagree with the ACA because it INSISTS you buy insurance. (Including policies for birth control and abortion which are totally against Catholic teachings) We blame the President because HE is the one choosing what closes and what stays open: No $ for cancer research, but PBS STILL receiving federal funds. Again, we WANT people to have AFFORDABLE health inurance (which is not the case here, as we are finding out) but this is America where you should have a choice-not be forced to buy something you don’t want!

      • Tak

        But we, the taxpayers, are paying for the medical care for those without insurance. When you don’t have money nor insurance and have to go to a hospital, the state ends up picking up the tab. That is, our tax dollars. Plus, with the allowance for pre-existing conditions, many people are touting this as wonderful for their lives. The position of the White House is that everything remains closed and we do not handle the budget piecemeal…. which is akin to “we do not negotiate with terrorists.” Think about it.

    • Carrie

      There are too many things in the ACA that are completely against our Catholic beliefs…for instance, abortion coverage and contraception. There is no way a true Catholic can support a law/bill that pays for those things.

    • USNWife

      The ACA does NOT provide health care. It has nothing to do with health CARE. It is government mandated health insurance.

    • five4life

      You are obviously NOT a Catholic, or have been living under a rock. I will not call it the ACA (new strategy from Dems) as you refer…it is Obamacare-the lefts DREAM to control all of us under SOCIALIST “healthcare”. It funds ABORTION or as the Dem talking points require-“women’s health” . Anyone who possesses an ounce of LOGIC and some mathematical skill set can foresee the eventual need for RATIONING. Get the facts, get a brain…or better yet, move to Britain.

      • Tak

        No, she is correct. Is it not a new healthcare system, simply insurance for the current one. The current healthcare system, under Roe v. Wade, also provides for abortion. Perhaps you should take that up as your cause… at least it represents reality vice what you have written above.

    • Larry

      Abortion is evil.

    • downmama

      ur serious aren’t u? REPUBLICAN SHUT DOWN?

      Its dangerous to NOT hold these people ALL OF THEM accountable!!!

    • InvictusLux

      Molly, you MUST be kidding right? Obama’s “take no prisoners” “I will not negotiate with terrorists [GOP]” narcissistic attitude is what caused this shutdown. He think’s he’s a King or an Emperor who’d rather negotiate with our enemies than our own American elected representatives.

      How can Catholics be against ACA? Are you completely out of touch with reality? First of all the poor ALREADY have unfettered access to free health care at every ER ward in the country – FOR FREE. Secondly, the ACA is a callous and direct attack at the Catholic Church since it requires that it pay for amoral procedures and services (contraception, sterilization, abortion and more).

      Are you the only one in the country that is unaware of the massive law suit the CC brought against the Obama administration for violation of religious liberties? It’s the biggest in US history.

      • MNValley

        1. You can always pick a health insurance program that does not offer “things” that offend your religion. ACA is not forcing you to get an abortion, birth control pills or anything that violated your religion.
        2. Abortion has been “legal” since 1973 … if you do not want one then do not get one.
        3. The 1986 Reagan Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is what is driving up medical costs. ACA makes everyone responsible and accountable for their own health and medical care.

    • Jeff

      Molly we are against the ACA because it is being forced on Catholic Organizations that are against what the ACA offers (abortions, abornification drugs, contraception, and other things). We are against the Lies of the president. He stated at one point in explaining his health care reform “Conciance laws will be in affect.” That means Organizations that are against the coverage do not have to take it as it violates what we believe. And then what does he do, he forces it on these organizations. I blame the president, senetors, representatives, democrats and republicans for the Government shutdown. I will be praying for you Molly.

    • Rdg

      How about the fact that the ACA subsidizes contraception with tax dollars or, more importantly, abortion. And before u start up, healthcare for the poor doesnt even begin to approach the moral equivalence of abortion. And the aca isnt the only way to provide it.

  • Semilogical

    I would again call for the DC Flush.

  • Don

    LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE PRIESTS WHO ARE WILLING TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST OBAMA’S ANTI-CATHOLIC WISHES!!!! Yes, the country is stupid for having elected him – I agree with all those who say this in the recesses of their hearts. It is good that we still have people with moral and spiritual conviction – despite what appears to be the trend of this nation. Of course abortion is morally wrong and is part of the corruption of this nation. Who can’t intelligently see this? Yet, Obama is strongly for it. Of course mandating religions to pay for immorality is part of the corruption of this nation. Who can’t intelligently see this? Yet, Obama would have us be so mandated! Why on earth do we wonder why there is a government shutdown???!!! At least these priests see the proper purpose of their existence and don’t seem too swayed by the thought of martyrdom. Are the people of this country really so stupid that shifting their attention to, for example, seeing the Grand Canyon will make up for the moral disparity??? Indeed there are bigger canyons which should enlist our concern.

  • Greg

    @EO I know this is a catholic site however the policy effects all faith contract chaplains. Chaplains have been with the military since the beginning to service the religious rights of the military personnel . Military Chaplains has been held up by the supreme court. Without active duty and contract chaplains the military personnel would be hard for them to exercise there rights. Think about it: combat, aboard ships and deployment to non combat countries. The military tries to accommodate all religions. The military, federal law enforcement and essential federal personnel aren’t getting paid. Why can’t an exception be made for volunteer chaplains?

    • Jan Jones

      How can the government mandate an order that a priest cannot say Mass, even if its on a volunteer basis without expectation of payment? Seriously, I realize this affects all faiths, but saying Mass, offering the Eucharist or any other sacrament is something solely distinctive to the Catholic Church. Washington does not have jurisdiction over a priest that serves Christ and the members of the Church! This is coming from an administration that insists they don’t interfere with issues of faith? Yeah right

  • Elizabeth W

    I will and do pray for military Catholics. Mass is Mass the world over no matter what the language, so hearing Mass in another language is not an excuse of non-attendance; it will be a great experience believe me. (In the past, Mass was said in Latin the world over, and all learned or were supposed to learn Latin.) Next, there are Lay members of Catholic religious groups, as well as other Catholic members in your neighborhood, village or where ever you are–you are not alone. Thanks for reaching out and letting us know your needs, which is one of my personal concerns.

    • David Blake




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