A letter Friday from Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-04) to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned the Biden administration’s decision to end the contract for provision of pastoral care by a community of Franciscan clergy to service members and veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“I write today with grave concerns regarding the provision of Religious Services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, specifically Catholic pastoral care, and request you immediately provide access for Catholic priests who seek to offer pastoral care to service members and Veterans who are in the hospital,” Smith wrote, noting the cease-and-desist letter issued by the medical center to the Franciscans at Holy Name College.

The Franciscan clergy have provided pastoral care to service men and women and veterans at Walter Reed “for nearly two decades,” Smith observed.

“This letter was issued during Holy Week, five days before Easter – the most sacred period for those who practice the Christian faith,” the congressman added (pictured here).

According to the letter, as of March 31, the Biden administration contracted with for-profit Mack Global LLC, a defense contractor, self-described as “your one-stop procurement for janitorial supplies, industrial machinery, aggregates and raw materials.”

“This highlights questionable judgment by officers awarding a Catholic pastoral care contract to a for-profit company best suited to provide industrial services instead of a Catholic religious institution with a strong record of providing pastoral services,” Smith wrote.

Mack Global also touts its status as “a woman-owned … certified business providing professional services and products to U.S. military, government agencies, and private companies.”

In addition to providing “janitorial supplies” and “industrial machinery,” Mack Global states it also specializes in “telework consulting services, administrative and religious staffing, transportation and roadway services, professional development and training.”

Smith’s letter comes as roughly two dozen Republican lawmakers are demanding answers from the Defense Department following the termination of the Franciscans’ contract, reported Fox News Digital.

On Wednesday Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Catholic, tweeted his condemnation of the Biden administration’s move to cancel the Franciscan order’s contract with Walter Reed just prior to Holy Week and engage, instead, a secular defense contracting firm that, according to the Archdiocese for the Military, “cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract.”

“Biden didn’t just kick out the Catholic priests who have been providing religious services at Walter Reed Military Medical Center for 25 years, he picked Holy Week to do it,” posted Rubio. “Today I will be seeking answers on this.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist organization that largely promotes abortion and LGBTQ rights, called the lawmakers and others condemning the move to terminate the Franciscans’ contract “Christian nationalists” who are “concocting” a crisis at Walter Reed with “deceitful claims”:

The faux scandal raised by Christian nationalist organizations and lawmakers demonstrates the preferential treatment Christianity has received in the military, and why we must strenuously defend the separation between church and state. Eliminating Christian privilege — which means not giving special treatment to religious organizations — is not the same as evincing hostility toward religion. A secular company winning a government contract over a sectarian Christian organization is far from a crisis, instead demonstrating neutrality toward religion.

“Not giving a Catholic organization special treatment over a secular organization shows fidelity to the Constitution, not hostility toward religion,” FFRF said.

However, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, told The Star News Network the Biden administration’s decision “to strip a group of Franciscan priests of the right to provide services for Catholics at Walter Reed” is “just another example of the animus that this administration has for Catholics”:

Anyone who thinks that awarding a new contract to a secular defense contracting firm during Holy Week was simply boneheaded is wrong. It fits like a glove with several policy decisions that express a deep-seated   hostility to Catholics.

“The Biden administration has done practically nothing to prosecute Jane’s Revenge, Antifa, and other urban terrorists who have targeted Catholic pro-life centers and churches,” Donohue asserted.

“Its support for the Equality Act, a bill that would force Catholic doctors and hospitals to perform abortions and sex-reassignment surgeries, shows its real colors,” the Catholic leader continued. “Its alignment with the most extreme elements in the LGBT activist community make it a threat to the well-being of children. Its steadfast opposition to school choice initiatives, and its war on parental consent, has alienated a wide swath of the Catholic community.”

Smith, who has asked Austin to respond to his questions within 14 days, also noted in his letter the long list of hostile actions taken by the Biden administration against Catholics:

Disturbingly, the lack of consideration to servicemembers religious needs and rights of conscience is not a one-time event. The large number of denials for religious exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine and the questionable decision-making regarding the provision of pastoral care services, raise serious concerns regarding the Department of Defense’s commitment to respecting the rights of conscience for those who volunteer to serve our nation. Coupled with the recent revelation of the FBI targeting Catholics for increased surveillance in Richmond, Virginia, and the failure of DOJ to prosecute repeated anti-Catholic vandalism at churches, this decision raises serious concerns regarding the Executive Branch’s position regarding 1st Amendment protections and invites questions regarding the Federal Government’s respect for, and protection of, the innate religious rights of Catholics in the United States.

According to the Archdiocese for the Military, suitable pastoral care “is not available for service members and veterans” at Walter Reed “either during Holy Week or beyond.”

“There is one Catholic Army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center, but he is in the process of separating from the Army,” the archdiocese explained.

“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,” said Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services.

“This is a classic case where the adage ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies,” Broglio added. “I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service. I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected.”

According to the archdiocesan news outlet, Elizabeth A. Tomlin, Esq., general counsel of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, has reached out to the contracting officers at Walter Reed numerous times throughout Holy Week asking for the restoration of the Franciscans’ Catholic ministry at least through Easter, but the medical center has not responded to her requests.

In a statement April 8, reported by Fox News Digital, Walter Reed appeared to dismiss the concerns of the archdiocese.

“Tomorrow, Catholic Easter Services will be provided to those who wish to attend. Services will include a celebration of Mass and the administration of Confession by an ordained Catholic Priest,” the medical center said. “For many years, a Catholic ordained priest has been on staff at WRNMMC providing religious sacraments to service members, veterans and their loved ones. There has also been a pastoral care contract in place to supplement those services provided.”

Walter Reed added:

Currently a review of the pastoral care contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries. Although at this time the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday parishioners of the Diocese while patients at our facilities may still seek their services.

“As a Catholic and a veteran, the attack on Walter Reed is particularly disturbing,” Donohue told The Star News Network. “Even if this matter is resolved in favor of the Catholic Church, the damage that it has already done to Catholic relations is considerable.”

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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at Walter Reed Medical Center” by Walter Reed Medical Center and photo “Rep Chris Smith” is by Rep Chris Smith.