Congress Acts After DoD Furloughs Chaplains

A variety of news sources noted that the decision to furlough government civilians in the Department of Defense has meant some chaplains couldn’t go to work either — and thus US military chapel services will not be held:

With the government shutdown, [“General Schedule”] and contract priests who are furloughed are not allowed to work, not even to volunteer, according to John Schlageter, general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services. “During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base, and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so,” he said.

This is generally true for all people in equivalent government positions, not just chaplains.  Interestingly, a Catholic spokesman noted that there are actually more civilian/contract Catholic chaplains in the US military than active duty ones: 

There are now more priests who are federal or contract workers than there are active-duty Catholic chaplains, according to Henry — 374 civilians or contractors compared to 234 active-duty priests. Most of the GS chaplains are in the Air Force community, a few serve Army communities, and none serve Navy communities, he said. There are contract priests across the services.

Recalling how the government is accomplishing other services even during the “shutdown” (including the Air Force/Navy football game) the Archdiocese

called upon federal officials to find creative solutions that would allow priests to minister to the faithful on military bases, protecting the religious rights of the American military during the shutdown.

At least one military chaplain did find a workaround:

A priest at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., was told he could not celebrate Mass on base because of the government shutdown. So he discovered a way to circumvent the ban.

“He’s having Mass in a local park off base,” the archbishop said.

To be fair, Catholics are not the only ones affected.  The Fort Irwin “Earth based” group also cancelled services due to the furlough.

The situation gets more complex when you consider that Congress has scolded the DoD for furloughing these civilians at all, since the bill passed last week — and signed by President Obama — authorizes payment for all civilians working in support of the US military:

The bill language allows for “such sums as are necessary to provide pay and allowances to the civilian personnel of the Department of Defense…whom the Secretary concerned determines are providing support to members of the Armed Forces…”

The DoD took nearly a week “explore” that language, and seems to have agreed that civilians could return to work — just after the US House passed a resolution specifically to put the military chaplains back to work.  (The resolution, passed on a vote of 400-1, was offered by Rep Doug Collins (R-Ga), an Air Force Reserve chaplain and was opposed only by Rep William Enyart, (D-Il).)

Of course, Congress just passed a bill that will retroactively pay all currently furloughed employees.  Thus, these government civilians’ paychecks will be delayed, not skipped.  This puts them on equal footing with the civilians who have been working for the past week technically without pay since they were “essential” — except those returning to work just received a short paid vacation.

Also at the Christian Post.