From Carol Zimmermann at Catholic News Service:
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops' Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.
That service has come to a halt because the agency recently learned it did not receive a new grant award for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS' prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10.
Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church's "position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision" by the HHS refugee office to reject MRS' application for a new grant, "especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience."
She noted that the MRS's anti-trafficking program "ran quite well without these services" and said it would be "tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking."
MRS officials had no immediate comment, and HHS officials contacted by Catholic News Service did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not making the U.S. Catholic bishops' agency include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program. That case is still pending.
Sister Mary Ann said in an email to CNS that MRS officials are concerned about their clients and hope they will "not suffer from a clumsy transition to new agencies or from limited or lack of services."
Read the rest here.
At the Washington Examiner, Charlie Spiering also wonders whether "payback" is involved.
The article states that MRS also worked with subcontractors, about one-third of which are Catholic. Others included Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services and anti-domestic violence groups, so it not just the Catholic groups that will suffer from this loss. But without comment from HHS confirming a reason, it's impossible to know exactly why MRS didn't receive funds. Let's hope this isn't a matter of spite, because such actions do nothing to further discussion about religious liberty or freedom of conscience. And the inevitable delays that will accompany the transition of MRS's caseload, will only hurt those people who are most in need.