Troops and families on some installations may find that there is no Catholic priest to celebrate Mass at their chapel on Sunday, assuming the government shutdown continues.
Because of the chronic shortage of active-duty Catholic chaplains, some of the services have turned to hiring priests to government civilian and contractor positions.
Chaplains of some other faiths may be affected, too, because the Army, for example, does have some federal General Schedule workers and contract workers of other faiths serving military communities as chaplains as well as other chapel workers. But the Catholic active-duty priest shortage generally has been more pronounced.
With the government shutdown, GS and contract priests who are furloughed are not allowed to work, not even to volunteer, according to John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. “During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base, and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so,” he said.
The chancellor’s office of the archdiocese has been “inundated” with calls from priests affected by the shutdown, said Taylor Henry, spokesman for the archdiocese, the endorsing agent for Roman Catholic chaplains.
There are now more priests who are federal or contract workers than there are active-duty Catholic chaplains, according to Henry — 374 civilians or contractors compared to 234 active-duty priests. Most of the GS chaplains are in the Air Force community, a few serve Army communities, and none serve Navy communities, he said. There are contract priests across the services.
Whether GS priests or contract priests are working during the shutdown depends on how they are funded, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. If they are funded by taxpayer dollars and are not determined to be exempted from furlough, they are not working.
The situation is fluid. Chapels have options, such as getting help from active-duty chaplains from another area of the base, Christensen said.