September 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – After public outcry, which included a petition by LifeSiteNews signed by over 10,000 people, the Navy has reversed course and decided to renew contracts with Catholic priests to celebrate Holy Mass on military bases. The cost-cutting measure was to be enforced across the country.
Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, the commander of Navy Region Southwest, announced the reversal of the plan to suspend most contracts for priests on Tuesday, reported the San Diego Union Tribune.
Trump confirmed the news in a tweet this morning:
The United States Navy, or the Department of Defense, will NOT be cancelling its contract with Catholic Priests who serve our men and women in the Armed Forces so well, and with such great compassion & skill. This will no longer be even a point of discussion! @CardinalDolan
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2020
Vice Admiral Yancey Lindsey, the commander of Naval Installations Command, had previously stated about the original decision: “We have a responsibility to use our limited resources wisely in meeting the needs of our personnel. Therefore, we will reduce redundancies and capture efficiencies by realigning resources.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported on the news, explained at the time that “religious services will be cut at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base.”
The newspaper pointed out, “While the Navy has an active-duty component of clergy – the Chaplain Corps – the number of Catholic priests among them is small. To make up for that shortage, the service contracted with priests to lead services on U.S. bases. Those contracts are the ones being canceled.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted Fr. Jose Pimentel, who was contracted to say Mass on naval bases in the San Diego area, as saying, “One issue is discrimination (and) another is the violation of your right to practice your religion.”
Between 250 and 400 service members attend Mass at San Diego Navy installations every weekend.
LifeSite stated in its petition addressed to Commander of Navy Installations, Vice Admiral Yancy Lindsey, and Commander in Chief, President Donald Trump, that it is “blatant discrimination” against Catholics to cancel Masses while still offering services to other Christian denominations.
“Going to Mass on Sunday is not just a optional thing for Catholics, it is an obligation. The Navy, therefore, has an obligation to its Catholic sailors, to facilitate attendance at Mass, especially as many sailors may not be able to travel off-base,” the petition stated.
“We, the undersigned, are dismayed to learn that the Navy intends to cancel on-base Masses for Catholic sailors citing cost as the reason, while, at the same time, continuing to fund other religious services as per normal.”
Karen White, herself a former naval officer who retired as a lieutenant, told LifeSiteNews about the harsh “the very unique life that sailors and their families lead.”
“I won’t detail to you what my son-in-law endured on his 7 month deployment on a destroyer last year,” she said. “There were many deprivations suffered, regarding schedule, food, living conditions, etc. And he is an officer! Not to mention separation from everyone he loved and often, especially in the surface Navy, harsh superiors as well.”
White’s husband was also a long-time naval officer, retiring as a captain.
“God has mostly been eradicated from our current human culture,” White pointed out. “Suicides from the resulting emptiness are on the rise in all of society but are particularly high amongst active duty and veterans.”
“Young people who enter the service, though smart and capable, often enter with a lot of personal baggage and are extremely young. They get paid little but do benefit from the discipline, though they don’t always have good examples to follow. For the faith-filled or those faltering in their faith, the chapel and chaplain are lifelines for them. Schedules are all over the place and the ability to catch a morning or noon Mass and especially a Sunday Mass can provide the strength they need to endure the rest of their crazy life.”
She also spoke about difficulties of long deployments, often without access to Mass at all, in addition to being separated from the family back home in the United States.
With that in mind, having priests ministering “to military is unique.”
“The priests who are Navy chaplains, even the ones on contract, have an appreciation for their unique life and minister to them specifically in it,” she said. “While the option to go to a parish off base is there, it is not the same. Military chaplains are used accommodating military moves in their sacramental preps, for instance.”
“I just want you to understand the unique role and importance of having a priest on base, serving the Catholic military population there,” she emphasized.