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Cruise Line Cutting Priests

A Sea Change at Holland America

Catholic cruise enthusiasts are feeling marooned after learning that Holland America Line (HAL) is inexplicably trimming clerics from its short-haul excursions.

Apostleship of the Sea of the United States of America (AOS-USA), the professional association of Catholic Mariners, Cruise Ship Priests and Catholic Maritime Ministers, announced the news in a recent bulletin:

"Our long-standing cruise line partner Holland America Line ... has advised AOS-USA that they are scaling down the assignments of priests to their vessels."

Effective immediately, HAL will no longer offer the pastoral services of Catholic clergy aboard its Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, Canada/New England and Europe cruises.


"Priests already assigned" to one of the impacted cruises "will be allowed to complete their ministry," AOS-USA informed its followers.


"Should an already assigned priest not be able to complete his assignment," however, "AOS-USA will not be allowed to back fill the assignment."

The organization noted that HAL will continue to assign priests to longer voyages, including:


 • Hawaii 

 • Ocean Crossings 

 • Panama Canals 

 • Asia 

 • South America 

 • Australia/New Zealand 

 • Grand 

 • Legendary 

 • All cruises crossing Christmas and Easter


"This year we were looking at over 300 priest assignments with HAL. We estimate in 2025 that number will be less than 100," AOS-USA stated.


AOS-USA supports the Catholic maritime community in several capacities. Its chaplains, for example, serve the faithful in many US ports, "reaching out to mariners, fishermen, dock workers, workboat operators, their families, and all who work or travel on the waterways of the world."


The organization also operates the Cruise Ship Priest Program, which provides Catholic clerics for cruise vessels, "in order to provide sacramental and pastoral care for the passengers, staff and crew aboard."

"Each priest is vetted and has the approval of his Competent Authority to serve in this capacity each year," AOS-USA explains on its website. "We ensure that only valid priests in good standing, who have their Bishop's/Provincial's permission to serve are onboard as chaplains."

Basic services provided by cruise ship clerics include:

  • Daily Mass for cruise passengers

  • Weekly Mass for crew

  • Ecumenical or Interfaith services for non-Catholic passengers

  • Pastoral care and visitation to the infirmed for all passengers and crew

  • Other religious and spiritual responsibilities as requested

"In addition to providing sacramental care," AOS-USA notes, "the priest is available for confidential counseling and spiritual guidance. During unexpected times of tragedy onboard, the priest provides comfort to the hurt or grieving, in addition to spiritual and pastoral care."

Priests participating in the program receive their room and basic meals courtesy of the cruise line, while gratuities, on-shore excursions and other purchases are self-funded.

"Yours is NOT a 'free cruise'," AOS-USA reminds candidate clergymen. "You are onboard for service and ministry. This is a unique ministry of the Catholic Church, and one which we take seriously."

AOS-USA inaugurated its Cruise Ship Priest Program in 2004, after a rash of complaints from Catholic passengers about "men who presented themselves as priests able to celebrate Mass but were not in good standing with the Church."

In a 2010 interview, former AOS-USA president Fr. Sinclair Oubre recalled that prior to the program's launch, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was being flooded with reports that imposters "were passing themselves off as Catholic priests in good standing — then they would introduce their wives on the fifth or sixth day of the cruise, showing they could celebrate a Mass just like a celibate priest."

In response, "the bishops' conference asked us to organize a cruise-ship priest program," Fr. Oubre explained. "Our mission was to ... supply Catholic priests in good standing with competent authority to the cruise lines."


Holland America Line's partnership with AOS-USA has earned it a devoted following among Catholic faithful.

"We appreciate the priest on board and the opportunity to attend Mass at sea," said one happy Catholic customer, prior to HAL's cutback announcement. "A priest on board does influence our decision making regarding the line we sail."

"We love HAL's commitment to providing this service," noted another. "We include this in our surveys as well."

In fact, in recent years, Holland America Line has been one of the only maritime hospitality firms to offer passengers regular opportunities for Mass and Confession.

Celebrity Cruises, for example — bowing to woke pressure — ended its participation in the Cruise Ship Priest Program in January 2010.

Guests "wanted to see more balance across different faiths," the company's public relations manager at the time explained. "We wanted to be sure we were offering options that appealed to those who practiced faiths other than the Catholic faith."

But instead of adding more religious service options, Celebrity announced that moving forward, it would furnish Catholic priests, Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis only for "the major holidays of each respective faith," claiming the cutback was done "out of respect for our guests of all religious faiths."

Catholic cruise enthusiasts are hoping that Holland America Line isn't charting a similar course.


Online, Catholic HAL loyalists are voicing dismay over the policy shift, as evidenced by a sampling of responses posted to review site Cruise Critic:

  • "Changes happen, but this is not a good one."

  • "I am bitterly disappointed as I have appreciated the opportunity to attend Mass on my HAL cruises."

  • "This is one of the main reasons we sail with HAL."

  • "Having a Catholic Priest onboard is the main reason we started sailing with HAL over 25 years ago."

  • "This is a game changer, and we will have to begin looking at other options."

  • "This stinks. Opens up me looking for cruises on any cruise line where I can get to port to go to Mass now." 

  • "I am not happy to hear of this change in policy! I have always mentioned that I appreciated having a priest onboard in my survey. I will be letting HAL know."

  • "I don't know about the rest of the Catholics on this forum, but I'm going to be writing to HAL to express my displeasure about this cheap new way to save a buck."


Multiple contributors to the forum said they had reached out to HAL's offices to express their frustration at the policy shift; the majority indicated they were dissatisfied with the firm's flat response.

Several said they had received no reply at all.

One traveler seemed hopeful: "I was given this email address by customer service. According to the customer service representative there still may be time to change that decision. For those interested the email address is:"

But another voiced skepticism: "I got a prompt reply to the email I sent about this to officeofthepresident. It was written by a 'Special Advisor', and seemed like a canned answer. It dubiously stated 'limited staffing availably' [sic] as the reason for the change."

Yet another posted the response received from a Special Advisor to the Office of the President:

"We appreciate your outreach about religious services and chaplains on our ships and for sharing your concerns. We have recently reviewed our programming and made the decision to prioritize spiritual care for our longer cruises, for cruises where guests are further away from home, and for cruises over religious holidays."

The representative then restated HAL's new policy of limiting daily Mass to "trans-ocean crossings, and cruises to Hawaii, the Panama Canal, Asia, South America, Australia, and New Zealand."

"On Grand and Legendary Voyages, services will be held by a Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister, and Jewish Rabbi," she continued. "On Christmas and Easter, both a Catholic Priest and Protestant Minister will lead services on all ships, and on Holiday Cruises over Hannukah, a Jewish Rabbi or Cantor will lead services on our cruises. For all other cruises, to serve the spiritual needs of our guests, we provide congregation-led interdenominational services on Sunday mornings."

"Your comments are welcome, and we will certainly incorporate them into our planning processes," the Special Advisor said in conclusion. "We do appreciate your input regarding this important aspect of our shipboard schedule, and again, we sincerely apologize for your dissatisfaction. ... Feedback from our Mariners is vital in our mission to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences, every time, and we hope to share many more voyages with you."



For its part, AOS-USA is acknowledging Catholics' disappointment with the new policy, even as it recommits to providing sacramental care to as many mariners as possible.

"We all know the value of having a priest onboard. Our cruise ship priests have brought the Eucharist to Catholic crewmembers who spend months at sea away from families and the formalities of their religion; priests have performed burials at sea, counseled crew and passengers after deaths or catastrophes onboard, conducted ecumenical services for passengers of all faiths as requested, and many more unseen services."

"AOS-USA will continue our ministry to cruise line crews and passengers and continue to work on establishing and strengthening our relationships with all cruise lines going forward," the organization said.


Souls and Liberty will be hosting its first Retreat at Sea — a seven-day voyage through the Western Caribbean — from Nov. 10-17, 2024.

Featuring Souls and Liberty political analyst Jim Ellis, Rome correspondent Dr. Jules Gomes, and contributor Gary Michael Voris, this excursion will come on the heels of the most crucial election in American history.

Its theme, "Christians in Exile," will address vital questions regarding the opportunities and challenges US Catholics may face during a second Trump / second Biden term.


Writer, editor and producer Stephen Wynne has spent the past seven years covering, from a Catholic perspective, the latest developments in the Church, the nation and the world. Prior to his work in journalism, he spent eight years co-authoring “Repairing the Breach,” a book examining the war of worldviews between Christianity and Darwinism. A Show-Me State native, he holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University and an Executive MBA from the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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