Religious services will be cut at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base. To the Rev. Jose Pimentel, a priest who has led services at Naval Base Coronado and North Island Naval Air Station for eight years, it isn’t just a personal loss—it’s a loss of the First Amendment rights of service members on bases.
Catholic Masses at San Diego-area Navy bases have ended because the Navy, in what it says is a cost-cutting move, has declined to renew its contracts with Catholic priests, and there are not enough Catholic chaplains on active duty to fill the void.
Protestant services on bases, which are led by active-duty chaplains, will continue, said Brian O’Rourke, a Navy Region Southwest spokesman.
The changes to the Navy’s religious ministries are part of a national realignment announced on Aug. 20. It is unclear how many priests this will affect.
“The Navy’s religious ministries priority is reaching and ministering to our largest demographic — active duty Sailors and Marines in the 18-25 year-old range,” O’Rourke wrote in an email. “To meet that mission, the Navy has had to make the difficult decision to discontinue most contracted ministry services.”
In the Navy message announcing the change, Vice Adm. Yancey Lindsey, the commander of Naval Installations Command, said it differently.
“We have a responsibility to use our limited resources wisely in meeting the needs of our personnel,” wrote Lindsey. “Therefore, we will reduce redundancies and capture efficiencies by realigning resources,” noting that religious services will be cut at bases where those services are readily available in the surrounding community outside the base.
To the Rev. Jose Pimentel, a priest who has led services at Naval Base Coronado and North Island Naval Air Station for eight years, it isn’t just a personal loss — it’s a loss of the First Amendment rights of service members on bases.
“One issue is discrimination (and) another is the violation of your right to practice your religion,” he said when reached by phone Friday.
Pimentel was notified Aug. 19 that the Navy will not exercise the final two years of his contract, citing “funding constraints.” His last day is Sept. 30.
While the Navy has an active-duty component of clergy — the Chaplain Corps — the number of Catholic priests among them is small. To make up for that shortage, the service contracted with priests to lead services on U.S. bases.
Those contracts are the ones being canceled.
O’Rourke acknowledges in his statement that the change predominately affects Roman Catholics.