Fighting Human Trafficking: No Catholics Allowed
When Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise yelled, "Show me the money!" in Jerry Maguire, it was funny. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) cries, "Show me the data," it is serious.
"Show me the data" is an urgent request from USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services. MRS has long worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help refugees, migrating children, and people trafficked to the U.S. for labor and the sex trade. The U.S. Justice Department recently lauded MRS in a brief defending HHS, which is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for working with Catholics. Said the Justice Department, as reported in the Washington Post, "the bishops have been 'resoundingly successful in increasing assistance to victims of trafficking.'"
Despite this, a recent anti-trafficking grant application from MRS to continue serving people caught in the 21st Century's version of human slavery was denied.
I have been informed that six organizations applied for anti-trafficking grants from HHS's Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Four scored so low they did not make the cutoff when evaluated by an independent review board. Two applicants scored well. Heartland Human Care Services scored highest and MRS came in second, very close to Heartland, even after losing points for not being willing to refer for contraceptives and abortions. Yet, after finagling by Sharon Parrott, one of three politically appointed counselors to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ORR awarded $4.5 million, spread across Heartland, which earned the award, and United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Tapestri, groups that hadn't made the grade according to the independent review board.
HHS denies any hanky-panky. Show me the data.
Ambassador Johnny Young, who now heads MRS after a stellar career in the U.S. diplomatic corps, asked for data. Young, an African-American, has seen plenty of racial discrimination. Meeting with HHS's George Sheldon he noted that he recognized discrimination again—this time because of his Catholic faith. When Sheldon, Acting Assistant Secretary for HHS's Administration for Children and Families, denied the deck was stacked, Young said, in effect, show me the data. No answer yet.
USCCB filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see how these decisions were made. Still no answer.
Defenders of HHS say the government has (until now, at least) partnered with the church to help refugees and others in need in diverse programs. As they rattle off grants they sound like a thief declaring, "I use banks regularly. This is the only one I've robbed."
Parrott explained her unusual involvement in the grant-making decisions, telling the Washington Post that "when important issues that are a priority arise, it's common for senior policy advisers to have a dialogue to reach the best policy decision." So much for President Obama's 2010 Executive Order that addressed meddling by political appointees, "Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships With Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations." Said the President: "Decisions about awards of Federal financial assistance must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof." Something's amiss.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh is Director of Media Relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Her latest book is Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy. You can follow Sister Mary Ann Walsh on Twitter and on Facebook.