EXCLUSIVE: Two dozen Republican lawmakers are demanding answers from the Pentagon after Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) sent a “cease and desist” letter to Catholic priests to stop providing care during Holy Week, slamming the move as a violation of the First Amendment.
Twenty-four Republican members of Congress penned a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. In the letter, obtained exclusively by Fox News Digital, the lawmakers blast the Biden administration’s “attack on the Christian faith.”
“Last week, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Holy Name College Friary, a group of Catholic priests, ordering them to stop providing pastoral care at their facility,” the letter reads. “The same group of priests have served at Walter Reed for almost 20 years, and this order came days before Easter.”
“Forcing priests to stop providing care during Holy Week is not only morally wrong, but also a violation of the First Amendment,” the members of Congress wrote.
The entrance of Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is seen on Nov. 19, 2021. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
The lawmakers praised the Catholic priests who have “stood alongside our service members through the darkest days of our history.”
“They joined American service members on the battlefield and provided care to all in need,” the letter says.
The lawmakers are demanding answers from Austin on why the Biden administration sent the “cease and desist” letter and why the administration chose to “terminate the contact” with the Holy Name College Friary.
The lawmakers also claim that the Archdiocese of the Military informed them that the contract for providing pastoral care was “awarded to a for-profit, secular company that does not provide pastoral care.”
“Who was awarded the contract and why?” they asked, requesting further contract terms, applications, review comments, the award letter and all internal emails and documents related to the contract.
“This attack on the Christian faith by the Biden administration during Holy Week is unconscionable,” the lawmakers wrote, demanding answers by April 21.
The Defense Health Agency told Fox News Digital that there “was no cancelation of Catholic services at Walter Reed, especially during Holy Week.”
“Palm Sunday mass was conducted by the Catholic priest assigned to the hospital and there were services on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. On Easter Sunday, confessions were offered as well as mass celebrated by a Catholic priest,” the Defense Health Agency spokesperson said.
The Defense Health Agency also told Fox News Digital in an email that “a contract was NOT terminated.”
“As with most contracts they have a beginning and an end. This contract originally ended on December 31st and was extended until March 31st. The contractor was aware of the contract end date,” the spokesperson said. “A new contract was awarded to a different company effective April 1st.”
“When the previous contractor continued to provide services after April 1st, a cease and desist letter was sent stating the former contractor could not perform services since they were not under contract,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added: “The current contract is under review to ensure the right services are being provided. But there was absolutely no loss of Catholic Services to the community.”
Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., gives remarks after receiving an endorsement during a Save America Rally with former President Donald Trump at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Illinois, on June 25, 2022. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)
The letter to Austin was sent by Reps. Mary E. Miller, R-Ill.; Jim Banks, R-Ind.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Byron Donalds, R-Fla.; Tom Tiffany, R-Wis.; Scott Perry, R-Pa.; Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.; Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Warren Davidson, R-Ohio; Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.; Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Bob Good, R-Va.; Keith Self, R-Texas; Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.; Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.; Josh Brecheen, R-Okla.; Brian Babin, R-Texas; Ben Cline, RpVa.; Andy Harris, R-Md.; Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn.; Michael Cloud, R-Texas; Eli Crane, R-Ariz.; Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla.; and Alex X. Mooney, R-W.Va.
“Priests and pastors guided our troops through the darkest days of our toughest battles. The Biden administration chose Easter weekend to kick Catholic priests out of Walter Reed, violating their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion,” Miller told Fox News Digital. “I am proud to lead this letter to Biden’s Defense Secretary to demand answers on this unconscionable attack on Christian service members and the First Amendment.”
The Pentagon, though, said there was an active duty Army priest providing Catholic coverage for Holy Week and Easter at Walter Reed after the cease and desist letter.
But two senior U.S. defense officials told Fox News that the decision surrounding the renewal of the contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was not handled by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and did not involve the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officials said the decision was not made by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington, D.C., on March 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Instead, an official said the contract was handled by the Defense Health Agency.
The letter from the lawmakers came after the Catholic archdiocese said in a statement that Walter Reed issued the cease and desist order against Holy Name College Friary, a Franciscan community of priests and brothers that has served at the center for nearly 20 years.
Walter Reed said the contract for Catholic Pastoral Care was terminated at the end of March, just as Holy Week was about to begin. Walter Reed replaced the contract with a secular defense contracting firm that the Catholic archdiocese argues will not be able to provide adequate care.
Walter Reed, though, defended the move over the weekend, saying that Catholic Easter Services were provided to those who “wish to attend,” and included a celebration of Mass and the administration of Confession by an ordained Catholic priest.
“For many years, a Catholic ordained priest has been on staff at WRNMMC providing religious sacraments to service members, veterans and their loved ones,” Walter Reed said in a statement. “There has also been a pastoral care contract in place to supplement those services provided.”
“Currently… the pastoral care contract is under review to ensure it adequately supports the religious needs of our patients and beneficiaries,” the Walter Reed statement said. “Although at this time the Franciscan Diocese will not be hosting services on Sunday parishioners of the Diocese while patients at our facilities may still seek their services.”
The AMS was created by St. Pope John Paul II to provide the Church’s services to veterans and service members in the U.S. and overseas. The archdiocese, which does not have geographical boundaries, is responsible for the care of 1.8 million Catholics across the globe.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.