When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lost a federal contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in October for the work it does with sex trafficking victims, many people suspected it was because the Catholic group will not provide or refer for abortions.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that speculation as a fact.
Citing HHS sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, The Post reported that the USCCB contract was a matter of much discussion — and strife — within HHS before the agency officially adopted a policy giving “strong preference” to grant applicants that would provide or offer referrals for “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”
“It was so clearly and blatantly trying to come up with a certain outcome. That’s very distasteful to people,” one official told the paper.
Since 2006, the USCCB has received $19 million from the federal government for the work it does providing food, shelter and counseling to sex-trafficking victims. But in 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the government for granting the money to the pro-life USCCB, claiming it’s an “unconstitutional” use of taxpayer dollars. That case was heard by a federal judge in Massachusetts on Oct. 18; a decision is pending.
Though HHS officially denies committing any kind of religious discrimination, The Post reports that internal documents reveal an independent review board and career staff members had recommended that USCCB’s contract be renewed, but “senior political appointees” in the department overrode them.
According to the review board, the new recipients of the grant money did not score as well as the USCCB — leading several of the career officials to refuse to sign off on the documents awarding them the grant.
The USCCB did not return calls for comment. But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, one of the organization’s spokespeople, wrote in an Oct. 13 blog post that the situation smacks of religious discrimination.
“The USCCB program excelled because of its anytime-anywhere approach,” she wrote. “Should an Immigration Enforcement official find a vulnerable child, for example, a call to the program got safe housing immediately.
“The program worked well on the ground, but not so well for distant administrators promoting the abortion and contraception agenda, who bristle at the fact that in accord with church teaching, USCCB won’t facilitate taking innocent life, sterilization and artificial contraception. … So much for the (Obama a)dministration’s guarantee of conscience protection.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops blog post on this topic.