A top U.S. military hospital ended its contract with a community of Franciscan friars just before Holy Week, putting a for-profit firm in charge of Catholic pastoral care, according to the Archdiocese of the Military Services.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, the head of the archdiocese, blasted the move by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, calling it “incomprehensible.”

The medical center ended its contract with the friars of Holy Name College in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, on March 31, the archdiocese said in a statement. The friars have ministered at the medical center for nearly two decades, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese, which serves U.S. military personnel and veterans and their beneficiaries at military facilities around the world, said medical center awarded the contract for Catholic pastoral care to a secular for-profit company.

“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available,” Archbishop Broglio said in a statement on Good Friday, April 7.

“This is a classic case where the adage ‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies,” he said.

Historic Tower at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Shutterstock
Historic Tower at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Shutterstock

A representative of the friary was not available for comment Saturday. The archdiocese’s statement did not provide the name of the new contractor.

“The refusal to provide adequate pastoral care while awarding a contract for Catholic ministry to a for-profit company that has no way of providing Catholic priests to the medical center is a glaring violation of service members’ and veterans’ Right to the Free Exercise of Religion,” the archdiocese said.

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“Especially during Holy Week, the lack of adequate Catholic pastoral care causes untold and irreparable harm to Catholics who are hospitalized and therefore a captive population whose religious rights the government has a constitutional duty to provide for and protect,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese said its general counsel, Elizabeth A. Tomlin, tried numerous times to contact officers at Walter Reed throughout Holy Week asking for the Franciscans’ Catholic ministry to be reinstated at least through Easter. No response was received, the archdiocese said.

In a statement Saturday to CNA, Walter Reed said the pastoral care contract “is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries.”

“Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) is a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs,” the statement read. 

“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 statement continued.

“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,” the medical center said.

“Although at this time the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday at WRNMMC, parishioners of the Diocese while patients at WRNMMC may still seek their services,” the statement concluded.

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In his statement, Broglio expressed concern 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,” he added.