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LJWorld.com weblogs First Bell

Chaplains not affected by shutdown, Seabury teacher says

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Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp has issued several statements in recent days alleging that Catholic priests in the military are being barred from celebrating mass on military bases due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

But Christopher Bryan, the Bishop Seabury Academy science teacher who was recently called up for deployment in Afghanistan as a chaplain in the Missouri National Guard, said this week that neither he nor any other chaplains have been affected.

“I have not been barred from any of my Chaplain duties due to the shutdown, and am not aware of any military Chaplain who has been affected,” Bryan said in an email to the Journal-World.

Huelskamp first made the allegation in a news release Oct. 8. That release, which has since been removed from the menu on his congressional website, was picked up by several Christian news websites as well as Tea Party websites and Fox News.

On Oct. 9, he used Twitter to solicit more examples of Catholic priests being denied the right to say mass: "Do you know of any Priests prohibited from celebrating mass because of #ObamaShutDown? Let us know." The tweet was followed by a link to the feedback page on his congressional website.

A spokesman in Huelskamp's office later declined to say whether he had received any responses to that tweet. But by Saturday, Huelskamp tweeted that there were hundreds of cases. #Obama admin denying chaplains on 250 military bases this weekend. #ReligiousLiberty #Anti-Catholic.

According to Bryan, the shutdown has only affected civilian ministers who work on contract with the military.

“About 20 percent of the Army is Catholic, but only 8 percent of the chaplains, reflecting the general shortage of priests in America today,” Bryan said. “Like other civilian contractors, these clergy were barred from working during the shutdown. I am certain that it was the nature of their work that made it newsworthy (the same rule applied to plumbers, doctors, and office clerks who are contractors, but that didn't prove as controversial).”

That was evidently the case at the Kings Bay Naval Base in Florida, which was the source of Huelskamp's original allegation.

Bryan is currently training in Springfield, Mo., for his upcoming mission. He is attached to the 1107th Aviation Group of the Missouri National Guard. He said the unit expects to depart to Ft. Hood, Texas, Nov. 3 and will be in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving.

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