SAN DIEGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - After public outcry, Navy Region Southwest has reversed a decision that would have ended Catholic Mass and other services on base.
Catholic Masses and other services will continue on Southern California Naval bases, at least for the next year. The announcement came on Tuesday from Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southwest — reversing the original plan to suspend most contracts for Catholic priests in an effort to cut costs.
"Contrary to previous discussions, this year we will continue contracted religious ministry programs and services similar to what we've had in place previously," Bolivar said in a statement. "We will also continue to assess how best to meet the needs of our sailors and their families throughout the region."
Approval of the Navy's reversal came all the way from the top. President Donald Trump tweeted his response to the navy's reversal.
"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!" the president wrote.
After considerable public outcry from news media outlets, including Church Militant, the Navy reversed its decision that was made public this week on not renewing the contracts of Catholic priests. In what it claimed to be a cost-cutting measure, the Navy had recently declined to renew contracts it had with priests, claiming it was part of a national realignment.
Vice Adm. Yancy Lindsey, the commander of Naval Installations Command, explained the cuts at the time.
"We have a responsibility to use our limited resources wisely in meeting the needs of our personnel," Lindsey wrote. "Therefore, we will reduce redundancies and capture efficiencies by realigning resources."
The problem was that this realignment would have resulted in not enough Catholic chaplains in southern California to fill the present need, while leaving non-Catholic chaplains virtually unaffected. Catholic Mass would have been eliminated due to the shortage of priests in active duty Chaplain Corps.
Fr. Jose Pimentel, a priest who has led services at Naval Base Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island for eight years, said he is grateful for Bolivar's decision of reversal.
"It's wonderful news," Pimentel said when reached by phone Tuesday. "I'm grateful that they realize the importance of the ministry we provide to the sailors, Marines and Coast Guard members — people of all diverse backgrounds. We're here for them."
"It's hard to quantify what I do," he explained before the reversal, mentioning his performing of weddings and baptisms as well as 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."
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, had initially challenged the Navy's choice to cut contracts with Catholic priests. Now he is elated.
In a statement before the reversal on Tuesday, Broglio said the Southern California contracts amounted to $250,000, or "approximately .000156%" of the Navy's budget. "It is difficult to fathom how the First Amendment rights of the largest faith group in the Navy can be compromised for such an insignificant sum," he continued.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, wrote on Twitter Sunday that the Navy should "look at canceling admirals, not priests."
Retired Navy pilot Anne-Marie Miley, who volunteered in Catholic ministry at the chapel for 11 years, is happy about the reversal.
"We get to meet up with other retirees and active-duty personnel, Miley had explained. "The church out in town has a large congregation; it's much more personal to go on base."
Retired Navy captain Richard Haas, who attended chapel at Coronado for 30 years, concurs:
It's part of being in the military — the camaraderie. To me it's synonymous, you all have a common thread — you served in the military. ... I don't understand — the Chaplain Corps has gone to great lengths to be inclusive. 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.
Some parishioners had questioned the justice of Catholic services being canceled while Protestant services continued. Bill Bartkus, a retired Navy senior chief, has attended Mass at North Island for 40 years. He asserted that what he saw in the original decision was unjust discrimination.
"It is unfair," he said. "I'd like to stay in my own military community. We know each other."
Other questionable decisions by the Navy in recent times have also been covered by Catholic media. As Church Militant reported in July, the U.S. Navy prohibited service members from leaving base to go to church. "Indoor religious services" were banned as well as "drive-in spiritual services," which were among a list that also included "parades," "nightclubs" and "casinos."
Broglio had asked rhetorically in a statement back on the Fourth of July, "Should those who swear to protect and defend the Constitution be obliged to surrender their First Amendment rights?" He added that "the Navy cannot legally prohibit family members from frequenting religious services off base."
Tuesday Broglio expressed his desire that the Navy would reverse its decision to cut priests in southern California. He finally got his wish.