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US bishops’ agency denied grant for trafficking victims
October 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, which has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking since 2006, has learned that it has not received a new grant award from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS’ prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10.

U.S. bishops’ spokeswoman Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh 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, especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”

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,” she said.

Jesse Moore, spokesman for Health and Human Services, told CNS in an Oct. 12 email that the “grantees were awarded funding through a competitive grant process to provide comprehensive case management services for human trafficking victims through the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program.” The process is designed to select applicants “that can deliver services most effectively and efficiently,” he said.

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts sued HHS 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 told 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.”

The U.S. bishops spoke of the relationship between MRS and HHS when they formed an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty last September to address government actions that endanger the free exercise of religion.

In announcing the new committee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, questioned the HHS requirement that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive service” — including abortion and contraception — to trafficking victims in its cooperative agreements and government contracts.

The church’s role in ending human trafficking cannot be overlooked, according to Miguel H. Diaz, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

In a conference in May at the Vatican on building public-private partnerships in the battle against modern-day slavery, he said the only way to end this global human rights violation is for governments to enlist the help of religious leaders, businesses, consumers and other private entities.


From October 21, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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