Father Ray Leonard, a Catholic priest who serves a Georgia military base, was not allowed to celebrate mass at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay this weekend.
“Shutdown: No Catholic service till further notice,” a sign posted on the chapel said.
Leonard — who is contracted with the Department of Defense to minister the military on the base — is not allowed to work on the base during the federal government shutdown.
In fact, the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA has warned that — under current law — some military priests under contract could even face arrest if they celebrate mass or practice their faith on military bases during the shutdown.
Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Republican, released the details of Leonard’s experience after meeting with the priest on Tuesday.
In a statement, Leonard said his parishioners were “angry” about the closing
“My parishioners were upset,” Leonard said. “They were angry and dismayed. They couldn’t believe that in America they’d be denied access to Mass by the government.”
Leonard ministers to hundreds of Catholics on the base. He said he offered to celebrate Mass and hear confessions as a volunteer during the shutdown, but was still denied.
His story comes as lawmakers are asking the Department of Defense to stop these restrictions on chaplains. On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed a near unanimous resolution introduced by GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia that urges the Secretary of Defense to permit military chaplains to “perform religious services and ministry” during the shutdown. The Democratic-controlled Senate has yet to take the resolution up.
Said Huelskamp on Tuesday: “Time and time again this Administration demonstrates it is waging a war against the very religious freedoms upon which America was founded.”