Walter Reed military hospital says new Catholic pastoral care contract under review

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

One of the top military hospitals in the U.S. says it is reviewing a Catholic pastoral care contract it awarded last month to a Virginia-based firm that specializes in providing government clients with industrial machinery, tactical gear, and janitorial supplies, in addition to chaplains and other religious staff.

Franciscan friars at Holy Name College in nearby Silver Spring, Maryland, had provided pastoral services at Bethesda’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for nearly two decades. Their contract expired on March 31, Walter Reed said in a statement Tuesday.

Walter Reed “can and will continue to support all faiths for their religious, spiritual, and emotional needs including those of the Catholic faith,” its statement said. “We have an ordained Catholic priest on staff and the awarded contract is to provide coverage in case our staff cannot.”

The Holy Name College friary continued to provide services after the contract expired, which prompted an April 4 cease and desist letter from the hospital that only increased Catholic concerns. The Archbishop for Military Services Timothy P. Broglio voiced objections on April 7, citing the need to provide Holy Week and Easter Sunday services. Broglio, who also is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the hospital’s move “incomprehensible.”

The new contractor is the Mechanicsville, Virginia-based Mack Global LLC, Walter Reed said in its April 11 statement.

The Mack Global website says the company serves the U.S. military, government agencies and private companies in telework consulting services, administrative and religious staffing, transportation and roadway services, and professional development and training. Its product supplies portfolio includes janitorial supplies, tactical and training equipment, raw materials, and industrial machinery. It specifically names water-tight doors and gym equipment.

The religious staffing services section of the Mack Global website says the company helps provide staff for “chapel support, religious education coordinators, non-personal chapel support, hospice chaplains, and other religious staff.” The “typical religious position” it staffs are those for both Catholic and Protestant musicians, music directors, youth coordinators, and religious education coordinators.

Its staffers are ordained and have the required certifications and clinical pastoral education needed for success, according to the website. They are “ordained ministers and experienced leaders as pastors, priests, musicians, teachers, trainers and volunteers who favorably pass the background check application.” Company CEO Robin Mack, the website notes, “comes from a strong Christian background and served as a Chaplain at her university.”

The Archdiocese for the Military Services on Friday did not name Mack Global as the contractor but characterized it as “a secular defense contracting firm that cannot fulfill the statement of work in the contract.”

Archbishop Broglio expressed concern that “giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service.”

Walter Reed was not able to respond to the concern that the company cannot provide priests, saying it is “currently reviewing the contract and unable to provide specifics.” The medical center said it is “a welcoming and healing environment that honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs.”

The medical center said it can provide Catholic services without a contract. It cited its current active-duty Army Catholic priest in its Department of Pastoral Care. He is currently providing Catholic services, including pastoral counseling and “sacramental rites.” This chaplain celebrated Catholic liturgies throughout Holy Week, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and provided bedside service to all patients unable to attend in person.

However, according to the military archdiocese’s April 7 statement, the one army chaplain assigned to Walter Reed is “in the process of separating from the army.” CNA asked a hospital spokesman to clarify the chaplain’s status but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Walter Reed said in its statement that it can secure Catholic priests assigned to other U.S. Department of Defense organizations in the region. Three other Catholic priests in the region are available, and the medical center has access to Red Cross volunteers and active-duty chaplain assistants.

It has “sufficient resources to provide for the religious needs of our Catholic beneficiaries,” the medical center said. Walter Reed did not provide an estimate of the number of Catholic patients, citing patient privacy concerns.

In the medical center’s view, the Holy Name College contract was not terminated but expired. The contract was “up for renewal and rebidding.” The college was aware of the contract expiration dates “when the prior contract was issued and signed.”

“The Catholic priests who previously provided care were not awarded the new contract,” Walter Reed said.

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A representative of the Holy Name friary was not available for comment Tuesday. Representatives of Mack Global and the military archdiocese also were not immediately available for comment.

The friars have ministered at the medical center for nearly two decades, according to the military archdiocese. 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.

Online job sites appear to list similar Catholic job openings at military institutions. At the website SimplyHired, an expired job listing attributed to Mack Global LLC seeks a Catholic religious education coordinator at West Point, contingent on a contract being awarded. The job site GlassDoor hosts other expired Mack Global job listings for Catholic pastoral services in Bethesda, Maryland, and Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

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