11th Oct 2013

Military Archbishop: “Makes No Sense” to Keep Priests Off Bases During Shutdown

by Joshua Mercer

The sign outside of the chapel at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia says it all:

“Shutdown: No Catholic services till further notice.”

Father Ray Leonard, a priest who serves the sailors and other employees at this naval base, was unable to celebrate Mass last Sunday. And this coming weekend isn't looking promising, either.

Catholics at numerous other military installations, including Quantico, which houses the helicopters known as Marine Force One, also had no Catholic Mass last weekend.

That's because with the federal government shutdown, local priests who had contracted with the military to offer religious services on base are unable to be paid nor even volunteer for the duty. That's because a 19th-century law would seem to preclude people for volunteering their services to the government. Congress passed such a law out of concern that people who volunteered might later demand payment for all their work.

But Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military Services said that priests simply want to minister to their flocks and provide the Sacraments to troops.

“All of the priests would have been willing to come and celebrate Mass whether they were paid or not,” Archbishop Broglio told Vatican Radio. “None of us really think about that in terms of fulfilling what is not only a duty but also a privilege.”

And it isn't just their Sunday obligation that the archbishop is concerned about. Military personnel who have scheduled baptisms and weddings at their military chapels face considerable problems adjusting their plans, especially if they have family traveling from across the country.

Some priests are being creative, hoping that the impasse will soon break.

Jesuit Father Paul Shaughnessy, who has served in active combat situations around the world, wasn't about to let a political fight in the nation's capital prevent him from serving troops stationed at the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in the Virginia Beach, Va., area.

In an email circulated around the base, Father Shaughnessy said :

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 Paviliion 1 as I fulfill my religious obligations.

Father Shaughnessy added: “If by some miracle Congress ends the government shutdown, then Mass will return to its normal schedule.”

But we don't even need a miracle, nor do we require an end to the shutdown.

The House of Representatives voted last Saturday for a concurrent resolution stating it was never the intent of that 19th-century law to prevent religious ministers from entering military bases to perform religious ceremonies.

While the House passed the resolution by a lopsided 400-1 vote, the Senate has failed to vote or even debate the resolution all week. Catholic chaplains, and those they serve, are wondering whether lawmakers in the Senate will respond in time for this weekend.

Let's hope that both sides in Washington can come together and set politics aside so that our brave men and women in uniform can worship God while their serving this country.

Joshua Mercer is Director of Communications and co-founder of, a grassroots organization that provides a voice in politics for hundreds of thousands of lay Catholics. Previously, he served as Chairman of Students for Life of America and also Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.