There is a shortage of Catholic priests who serve members of the US military and their families, and it looks as if the government shutdown is going to make the situation worse. According to John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, priests (whether they are active military or priests privately contracted by the military) will not be allowed to offer Mass or offer other religious services on military installations. (Some Protestant services may also be affected, but the shortage of Protestant clergy is not as extensive as it is for Catholics.)
Schlagter stated that the chaplains may not work or even volunteer during the shutdown. Should a priest attempt to offer Mass, hear confessions or baptize someone, he would be facing arrest. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen stated that if an “outside” priest were hired and paid via tithes and/or donations – not government tax dollars – he would be allowed to offer his services.
Approximately 25 percent of active duty personnel are Catholic, and they have their own archdiocese:
The Archdiocese for the Military Services was created by Pope John Paul II to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those in the United States Armed Forces. This includes more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 V.A. Medical Centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the USA in 134 countries. Numerically, the AMS is responsible for more than 1.8 million men, women, and children.
Catholic military personnel are being encouraged to seek out services off-base, find a volunteer priest, or simply
…go without Mass this weekend. Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract or GS priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended at many of those worldwide installations served by contract and GS priests.
You can read the press release “Shutdown Impacts Chapel Services” from the Archdiocese for the Military Services here.