"I had to say Mass in my room," says Father Ray Leonard, recalling the years he served in the Tibetan region of the People's Republic of China.
In that country, where the Communist government has created a state-sanctioned facsimile of the Catholic Church and driven faithful Catholics underground, Father Leonard saw firsthand how totalitarians approach religion.
"Everything is controlled," he told me in an interview. "If you are part of the public church, what is known as the Patriotic Church, the church which is for the most part governed by the Communist Party, they restrict everything. They restrict the times that you are open. They restrict the messages that you can preach about. They prohibit certain individuals that they would not want in public ministries."
"The interference is widespread and constant," he said.
Father Leonard returned to the United State about a year ago and soon applied for a job as a civilian chaplain with the Department of Defense. He was hired and assigned to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, which serves as homeport to six ballistic missile submarines, two guided missile submarines -- and 300 Catholic families.
His contract started Oct. 1, the same day as the partial government shutdown.
Shortly before that, however, Congress approved -- and President Barack Obama signed -- the Pay Our Military Act. It appropriated "such sums as are necessary to provide pay and allowances to contractors of the Department of Defense ... whom the Secretary concerned determines are providing support to members of the Armed Forces."
Father Leonard commenced his own duties providing support to the families at Kings Bay. "No one even said anything," he said. "I was there during the week and having the Mass."
Then, on Friday, he got the news. "There will be no services this weekend."
CNSNews.com managing editor Michael Chapman wrote a story about what was happening to civilian chaplains, citing an op-ed published by Archdiocese for the Military Services General Counsel John Schlageter, noting that if the shutdown continued through the weekend civilian priests could risk arrest if they tried to carry out their ministries on military bases.
On Saturday, Oct. 5, the House responded. It voted 400-to-1 for resolution stating it was the intention of Congress "that the Secretary of Defense permit military chaplains and other personnel, including contract personnel, hired to perform duties of a military chaplain to perform religious services and ministry, during any lapse in appropriations."
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