WASHINGTON — A Catholic priest has been the target of government retaliation, according to a complaint filed in federal court by his attorney, because he sued the Obama administration for the right to say Mass and minister to his military flock on base during October’s government shutdown.
The government’s alleged retaliation against Father Ray Leonard began with depriving the civilian priest of two months of his salary, even after the Department of Justice (DOJ) had allowed him to continue his ministry at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, according to a legal brief filed by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Father Leonard had sued the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy in October, after government officials told him on Oct. 4 that because he was a civilian priest under contract with the Navy, and not an active-duty Navy chaplain, that he could not minister to Catholics on base during the government shutdown.
The U.S. military has a shortage of Catholic chaplains within its ranks, so while the chaplains of other faiths were unaffected in their religious ministry during the government shutdown, Catholic civilian priests like Father Leonard, who are under contract with the armed forces, were told they could not perform any part of their ministry on base.
Father Leonard could have faced up to two years of jail time and a $5,000 fine had he violated the Anti-Deficiency Act by performing his duties as a priest, even on a volunteer basis. That law states, in part, that “an officer or employee of the United States government … may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law.”
The DOJ backed off in Father Leonard’s case Oct. 15, a day after the lawsuit was filed and started to gain national attention, allowing him to resume ministry at the Kings Bay base.