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US military archbishop laments Navy decision to end Masses at San Diego bases

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By Christine Rousselle

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 8, 2020 / 03:10 pm MT (CNA).- The Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA is hoping the U.S. Navy will reconsider its decision to terminate its contracts with Catholic priests in the San Diego area as a cost-saving measure.

“For some time now, Archbishop Timothy Broglio has been engaged with the Navy Chief of Chaplains and has been trying to meet with those responsible for the decision,” a spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA Sept. 8.

“The savings from cancelling these contracts amounts to $250,000,” said the spokesperson, which is “approximately 0.000156% of the Navy budget.”

With the move not to renew contracts with non-military Catholic priests, Catholics living at Naval Base Coronado, NSA Monterey, and Naval Base Ventura County will be left with no priest to celebrate Mass on-base. The priests were notified in mid-August that they would not have their contracts renewed.

Priests assigned to overseas bases and ships will keep their roles, and priests under contract at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Marine Corps Recruit Depot will continue to celebrate Mass on-base as there is no off-base option for Mass.

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, questioned the move to end the contracts given the number of Catholic serving in the Navy.

“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. The Archbishop hopes that the Navy will reconsider the decision,” said the statement.

The three bases are served by civilian Catholic priests as there are not enough Catholic chaplains in the Navy to handle the spiritual needs of Catholics on those bases. Protestant services, which are done by military chaplains on active duty, will not be affected by this change.

Brian O’Rourke, a Navy Region Southwest spokesman, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that military chaplains would help people find new congregations off-base.

“We know change can be difficult for our existing on-base congregations, but ask for understanding, patience and support from those faithful civilians and retirees who, in their heart of hearts, want what is best for our uniformed service members and their families,” O’Rourke said to the Union-Tribune.

“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,” said O’Rourke. “To meet that mission, the Navy has had to make the difficult decision to discontinue most contracted ministry services.”

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