Navy commander reverses decision to cancel Catholic priests’ contracts

In this 2017 file photo, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is seen as a replenishment-at-sea is conducted with the Military Sealift Command's fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson in waters around Okinawa, Japan. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate via Reuters)In this 2017 file photo, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is seen as a replenishment-at-sea is conducted with the Military Sealift Command's fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson in waters around Okinawa, Japan. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate via Reuters)

SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- The commander of U.S. Navy Region Southwest in San Diego announced late Sept. 8 that for at least the next year, she was reversing her earlier decision to end Catholic services on three Navy bases.

The San Diego Union-Tribune daily newspaper reported Sept. 6 that Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, the commander, was canceling its contracts with Catholic priests to say Mass for Navy personnel and their families, citing the need to cut costs. The move was going to affect Naval Base Coronado, Naval Support Activity Monterey and Naval Base Ventura County.


Protestant services, which are led on base by active-duty chaplains, were not affected.

"Contrary to previous discussions, this year we will continue contracted religious ministry programs and services similar to what we've had in place previously," Bolivar said in a Sept. 8 statement. "We will also continue to assess how best to meet the needs of our sailors and their families throughout the region."

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

According to the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington, only 48 priests serve as active-duty Navy chaplains, ministering to members of the Navy, the Marines and the Coast Guard. The current number of chaplains is "hardly enough to meet the pastoral needs of more than 135,000 Catholics now on active duty in all three service branches, plus their families," it said.

So the Catholic Church depends on civilian priests under contract with the Department of Defense "to fill the gap," the archdiocese explained. Contracting with these priests is what Bolivar had wanted to end.

In response to the commander reversing her decision, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. military archdiocese, told Catholic News Agency early Sept. 9: "Catholics in the Navy and everywhere in this country rejoice in the decision by the U.S. Navy to reconsider closing the thriving Catholic programs at naval stations in California."

The archbishop said in a statement posted a day earlier at that the archdiocese had received "many messages" and was "well aware of the items published" about Bolivar's initial decision regarding the pastoral care of Catholics at the three Navy bases -- "all of which are currently served by civilian Catholic priests willing and able to continue their ministry."

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

The military archdiocese calculated that by canceling the priests' contracts, the Navy would have saved about $250,000 -- or "approximately 0.000156% of the Navy budget."

"It is difficult to fathom how the First Amendment rights of the largest faith group in the Navy can be compromised for such an insignificant sum," Archbishop Broglio said.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said after learning of Bolivar's move to cancel the priests' contracts, Archbishop Broglio was in contact with the Navy's chief of chaplains and had "been trying to meet with those responsible" for the initial decision.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.


The latest from america

The Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind., from June 2001: William Emmett LeCroy, 50, on Tuesday would be the sixth federal inmate executed by lethal injection here this year. (CNS photo/Andy Clark, Reuters)
U.S. bishops call the application of capital punishment “completely unnecessary and unacceptable.”
Kevin ClarkeSeptember 22, 2020
Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Father Tony Flannery (CNS photo/Paul Haring/CNS photo/Irish Catholic)
The C.D.F. said today: ‘We did everything possible to dialogue with Father Flannery. It wasn’t always easy.’
Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 22, 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic is adding to the financial woes of Catholic schools in inner cities. But better management and creative fundraising may save them, writes Lance L. Lee, a parent of two children in Catholic schools.
Lance LeeSeptember 22, 2020
Sixth-graders sit at their desks on the first day of classes of the new academic year at Our Lady of Victory School in Floral Park, N.Y., on Sept. 8. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
With many public schools still in virtual mode, parents are taking a new look at Catholic education. But Michael O’Loughlin reports that the reprieve from declining enrollment may be temporary.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 22, 2020