Navy Reverses Suspension of Contract Priests, But Future Remains Uncertain

On Aug. 20, Vice Adm. Yancy Lindsey, Commander, Navy Installations Command, announced that “religious services will be cut at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base” in order to “reduce redundancies and capture efficiencies” as part of a national realignment. Commander, Navy Installations Command, commonly referred to as CNIC, is responsible for the Navy’s religious programs as it ties in with CNIC’s mission areas: sustaining the fleet, enabling the fighter, and supporting the family.

After public outcry from elected officials and Catholic service members affected by the religious service cuts, the decision was reversed on Sep. 9 at the behest of the Commander-in-Chief. Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander Navy Region Southwest, said in a public statement, “Contrary to previous discussions, this year we will continue contracted religious ministry programs and services similar to what we’ve had in place previously. We will also continue to assess how best to meet the needs of our sailors and their families throughout the region.” It seems that the Navy will not carry out the planned cuts affecting religious services this year but may do so in the future. If the decision had not been reversed, what detrimental impacts would the cuts have made on the Roman Catholic faith community in the naval service, and in reverse, what would its effects be on the service itself?

Due to the continual shrinkage of active duty Catholic chaplains serving in the Navy, now at 48, the Navy, in times past, hired local parish priests, also known as contract priests, to administer the sacraments at bases which had no assigned Catholic chaplains. This flexible relationship allowed Catholic sailors and their families to receive the sacraments and form a unique community, where service to God and country established a one-of-a-kind association among its parishioners. Young Catholic sailors, living in the base barracks with no means of transportation, were grateful for the presence of on-base religious services. For those sailors who desired to attend daily Mass during their hour-long lunch breaks, this was a possibility since the commute was much shorter than that to a church, off base. This all would have been a mere distant memory if the Navy ceased its contracts with civilian Catholic priests.

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