A group of Franciscan priests recently lost a contract to provide pastoral care to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. When they tried to resist the change and keep working during Holy Week, they were served with a cease-and-desist order.

Now, management at Walter Reed is facing pushback not only for kicking the priests out so close to Easter, but also for choosing to partner with a secular defense contractor for future pastoral care services, according to The Associated Press. Top Catholic leaders, elected officials and religious liberty attorneys have all expressed concern about Walter Reed’s recent moves.

“It is incomprehensible that essential pastoral care is taken away from the sick and the aged when it was so readily available. This is a classic case where the adage ‘If it is not broken, do not fix it’ applies,” said the Rev. Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop for military services, in an April 7 statement.

He added that Walter Reed was threatening patients’ religious exercise rights in hopes of saving money.

“I fear that giving a contract to the lowest bidder overlooked the fact that the bidder cannot provide the necessary service. I earnestly hope that this disdain for the sick will be remedied at once and their First Amendment rights will be respected,” he said.

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In a letter to top military officials in the Biden administration, attorneys from First Liberty Institute drew similar conclusions, arguing that Walter Reed is legally obligated to provide service members with access to Catholic priests.

“The department’s decision is both legally and morally wrong,” the letter said.

Walter Reed officials declined to share details of the old and new contracts with The Associated Press. They also wouldn’t say whether the services provided by priests from Holy Name College Friary in Silver Spring, Maryland, had been unsatisfactory in some way.

They did say that Catholic patients received pastoral care during Holy Week from an Army priest who is on staff at Walter Reed. Officials also noted that the new contract with Mack Global LLC is under review.

Walter Reed “honors and supports a full range of religious, spiritual, and cultural needs,” members of the management team said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

Mack Global, the recipient of the new contract, is a Virginia-based firm that provides a variety of services to the U.S. military and other government agencies, according to Catholic News Agency.

“The religious staffing services section of the Mack Global website says the company helps provide staff for ‘chapel support, religious education coordinators, non-personal chapel support, hospice chaplains, and other religious staff,’” the article said.

Before Mack Global was given a contract, Franciscan priests from Holy Name College Friary had been serving Walter Reed for nearly two decades, The Associated Press reported.