The Navy has declined to renew contracts with Catholic priests in a supposed “cost-cutting” move, leaving bases without enough chaplains to keep services going, according to a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Navy boasts an active duty component of clergy, the Chaplain Corps, but the number of Catholic priests among them is small. The Navy had contracted priests to lead services on U.S. bases, but those contracts have now been cancelled.
Services will continue on overseas bases and on Navy ships, the Union-Tribune reported.
The closures have upset many servicemen and priests alike, many of whom have formed tight communities around their chapels and services.
“One issue is discrimination (and) another is the violation of your right to practice your religion,” Rev. Jose Pimentel, a priest who has led services at Naval Base Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island for eight years, said when reached by phone Friday. Pimentel was notified Aug. 19 that the Navy would not exercise the final two years of his contract, citing “funding constraints.”
“It’s hard to quantify what I do,” Pimentel said, saying he’s done everything from performing weddings and baptisms to counseling families of service members who died by suicide. “I’m a 25-year veteran of the Navy and Air Force, so I can provide a certain level of support they wouldn’t get from the civilian side.”
Vice Admiral Yancey Lindsey also reportedly claimed that the decision was a cost-cutting measure, saying that the Navy has “a responsibility to use our limited resources wisely in meeting the needs of our personnel,” noting that religious services will be cut at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base.
However, other reasons have been offered, creating some confusion as to the exact reason for the closures.
“The Navy’s religious ministries priority is reaching and ministering to our largest demographic — active duty Sailors and Marines in the 18-25 year-old range,” Brian O'Rourke, a Navy Region Southwest spokesman, wrote in an email to the Union-Tribune. “To meet that mission, the Navy has had to make the difficult decision to discontinue most contracted ministry services.”
O’Rourke acknowledges in his statement that the change predominately affects Roman Catholics.
Parishioners who spoke with the Union-Tribune questioned the fairness of Catholic services being canceled while Protestant services will continue.
“I don’t understand; the Chaplain Corps has gone to great lengths to be inclusive,” Richard Haas, a retired Navy Captain, said. “Why deny Catholic members the right to hold their worship services? For a service member on (Coronado) or North Island to go out in town to find a priest — it doesn’t work that way.”