Morning must-read: on HHS, Catholics and conscience

Sister Mary Ann Walsh at the USCCB offers this eyebrow-raising overview of a story in yesterday’s Washington Post:

The most memorable line since Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” has just come out of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Ta da: “ I’m not trying to get anyone off the hook here.”

That telling quote comes from George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. Sheldon offered his defense to Washington Post writer Jerry Markon for a front page story in the Post November 1.

Markon’s story investigated how the grant process at HHS was manipulated to keep an office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from receiving an award to serve victims of human trafficking. USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) had scored high enough to be awarded a federal grant to continue its very successful anti-trafficking program. But the decision was “overturned,” so to speak, when Sharon Parrott, a top adviser to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, stepped in to “have a dialogue” (her words) in the process because the award would go through a Catholic agency. Their problem?: the Catholic Church—though providing food, shelter, and legal and other medical services for trafficking victims more effectively than any other—is forbidden by conscience from referring those victims for abortion, sterilization or contraceptives. So much for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal legislation that protects conscience—not to mention ordinary fair-play in picking grant recipients.

But wait.  There’s more.  Read on.


  1. I fully understand, as we all do, that money makes the world go around; that you need funds to take care of people and it would be nice if your “fairy god mother or father in Washington would give your cause some that was free, but be mindful of who you’re sleeping with…

    I’ve been telling you’se, but no one listens…..

    People should think very hard before they get into bed with our government.

    Peace to all

  2. Before the last election, many of us warned that Barack Obama and the Democrat Party wanted us to practice our faith…but it had to be left at the door of the church when we left on Sunday. As we spoke about this, many on the leftist Catholycs (pro-abortion, anti-true marriage, etc.) and those who were sooo caught up in the good feelings and mood, told us that we were crazy, racist and just plain ignorant. This would never happen. Look at him He is so intelligent, so kind, such a good public speaker.

    Now that that such things are happening, is there any sense of buyer’s remorse? Will there be an apology?

    I wonder how “faithful” Catholics who voted Barack Obama are now having second thoughts.

  3. I’m not sure that you can use ““faithful” Catholics who voted Barack Obama ” all in the same sentence. I think there’s a huge contradiction.

    Peace to all

  4. OH, OK I see the quotes awashingtondccatholic….
    Now I understand.

  5. Count me in. Everytime I would bring up these and similar issues on this blog, I was accused of being an Obama hater.

    It was obvious before he was elected (based on his previous actions), how this would all shake out, as it all “starts at the top” and those pulling the strings are his appointees.

    Hopefully, in this next critical election, we the people, especially Catholic Voters, will follow the Holy Spirit of the Church, the 5 “non-negotiables”, and vote accordingly. The future of our country, and the greater good, depends upon it.

  6. Oh. So it turns out that causing a public rift by denying politicians communion is not a good method for securing government grant money. I guess that makes sense.

  7. Henry Karlson says:

    I really hope people would actually follow the Church, not partisan voter guides which misrepresent what the Church’s teaching on voting actually is. The Church recognizes voting is a much more complex thing than someone just stating positions one likes — again, if Hitler is up and against abortion, some would say you should vote for him over Obama. That would be wrong, but it is the result of the illegitimate understanding of politics which confuses idealism as reality.

  8. Henry Karlson says:

    I also would be careful with accusations of “pay back.” There is much more going on; funding as a whole is being cut back all around. What do people expect when there are no funds? Programs will not get funding; that you GOP! So many forget that this is what you called for — the cutting back of government aid to the poor; now when you get your wish, and find the Church doesn’t have resources coming to it, you now complain? You get your wish and you complain? Hypocrites — complain when funding is going down, all around, first. You didn’t want “redistribution of wealth.” You should be happy the Church can’t do it.

    Of course, there is likely some background as to why different groups get cut back or not, and it is worth looking into if it is being done justly or not. But — again, the ones who have the right to complain are not those who have said no one should be funded.

  9. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson #8

    It’s clear from the story that there are funds available which would have gone to the USCCB MIgration and Refugee Services if the political appointees hadn’t interfered in the awards process. Therefore your comment is groundless on the facts.

  10. Henry @#8

    No one has said “no one should be funded.” It’s not even what anyone meant….or am I reading you wrong?

    Peace to all

  11. Henry Karlson says:


    Critical reasoning skills require us to think further than one perspective and the news story as if it shows all the facts. There are many unnamed sources, often, when this happens, people are playing loose and free with the facts. Second, again, they might in theory have money for this or that, but again, with cut backs, they still must figure out which this or that they will fund. Having the potential to fund X means, with less money, Y will not be funded when, in previous times, when there was enough for X and Y. The fact that you can fund X or Y does not, then, mean you can fund X and Y now. So again, when the budget is cut, things are cut. This goes with my third point — again, the people demanding budget cuts — this is what happens! You wanted cuts, you got cuts. This is exactly what happens. Again, the question of justice of whether or not there is politics in play is valid, but beyond that, again, when you cut budgets and push for cutting budgets, don’t be surprised things you favor are what are cut. Again, the GOP show-down with the budget has caused this.

  12. Henry Karlson says:


    When you are demanding cut backs of resources, you will find things — good programs — eliminated. This is what happens. This is what people said would happen. No one should be surprised.

  13. But Henry, This post has NOTHING to do with buget cuts and everything to do with “game playing.”

    Also, if it’s true that the captain is responsible for the actions of his crew just as my boss is responsible for the actions of his workers, Mr. Obama IS RESPONSIBLE for the actions of the people under him.

    Peace to all

  14. Mike @ 6

    Am I reading YOU right? Are you saying that we as Christian Catholics should act like them; play an eye for an eye?

    Peace to all

  15. Henry @ 7,
    Are you comparing Obama to Hitler?

    Peace to all

  16. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson #11

    Your assertion that “this” happens when people demand budget cuts, is unsupported factually until you demonstrate specifically that there were no funds in the HHS budget that could have gone to USCCBMRS, and that as a direct result of budget cuts proposed by the GOP and subsequently enacted. You have fabricated a scenario with nothing but suppositions to support it. It is, at best, worthless speculation with respect to this particular case.

  17. Henry Karlson says:


    Come on, look to the world. The GOP is forcing the feds to slash funding. That’s the context in which this is happening. This is important to remember. It has everything to do with the situation — when the government has less funds to give out, programs are cut. Plain and simple.

    You are further saying “but they have money.” But less money. That’s the point. Previously they could fund X and Y. Now they have to choose X or Y. That they could fund Y means they could fund X. Showing they could fund X does not, however, mean there is no budget cuts, but that is what you are doing.

    And, the fact that I said many would demand we vote for Hitler because he spoke out against abortion was not comparing Obama to Hitler. Figure it out.

  18. Henry Karlson says:

    Sorry that was supposed to be two posts to two people.

    Nonetheless, again, people look to the budget cuts. Look what happens when you cut budgets. And the GOP want to defund even MORE of these programs. This is what you get with the “no government funding.” This is it. You asked for it, you get it. Don’t complain — if you asked for budget cuts.

    Those of us who oppose it have every right to complain and to point WHY it is happening. It is every bit the fault of those who demanded budget cuts. This is your deed. You are helping to hurt people. We told you it would happen. You said you didn’t care. You got it. Now it’s your social evil that you have created. Your increase in the systematic evil which has been developed. Your fault.

  19. oldestof9 #15

    My point is that if you choose call someone a political enemy, don’t be surprised when they respond in kind.

    In my view the Church *shouldn’t have* political enemies. We should vigorously promote our vision of the common good in the public square, but we should not take sides for or against particular politicians because, sadly, there is no political party that is authentically Catholic.

    The other thing that is sad in this episode is that the people caught in the crossfire are the migrants.

  20. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson #18

    “This is what you get with the “no government funding.” This is it. You asked for it, you get it. Don’t complain — if you asked for budget cuts.” — Pure hot air until you give us the numbers which prove that there was no discretionary money which could have gone to MRS if HHS had decided — IOW that whatever funding was available was mandated to other providers.

    You’re making a phony case. Although it is true that when funding is decreased some programs get cut, you have not provided even a shadow of a nexus between that broad generality and the specifics of this situation. Your rhetoric is illogical, and you are clearly intelligent enough to realize it. I call on you to stop repeating your ridiculous fallacy.

  21. Henry Karlson says:


    What “fallacy” has been said? You still do not get the situation. Cut backs have been called for. You are saying “but they could still fund what I want them to fund.” Sure, but at the expense of others. With cut backs, they have to make calls. And it might be political (and often has some part of it) but often, it isn’t political. Just because there is a cut back, one has to do more than show a cut back to prove the claims that it is “revenge.” Again, the people who are crying foul are the ones demanding cut backs –for programs exactly like this because it is “socialism” when the government funds them.

    Sorry you can’t have it both ways folks.

  22. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson

    You’ve been presenting a tissue of generalities as if it were proof that the the decision not to fund MRS was the simple direct effect of the GOP call for cutbacks. That’s false, and you’ve finally begun grudgingly to allow that the connection you’ve been asserting along along just might not be there.

    Yeah, “it might be political,” and there is more than the simple defunding of MRS to show that it is. There is the evidence of the statements of insiders in HHS, asserting that non-routine discussions about funding MRS took place at the top political levels of HHS.

  23. Henry Karlson says:

    There are the claims of insiders at the HHS who have not been named — while there are those who have been named who have denied the claims of unnamed sources. Let’s be clear. Unnamed sources can be correct, but also, can also be people trying to create problems for all kinds of reasons not known to us.

  24. Thank you Mike…well put, but I think that when you stand as the Catholic Church (the magesterium)has on issues, then people are going to view you as an enemy. Maybe I’m looking at the world through “rose coloured glasses” but I don’t see where the Church – not the individuals but the Church – sees anyone or any group as an enemy.

    At any rate, this is what happens when you make or try to make “strange bed fellows.”

    Peace to all

  25. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson #23


  26. THe Church probably has very good grounds for a winning lawsuit here. The grant application specfied X criteria. They applied and won. Then the criteria was changed on a whim and grant denied.

    I think a nice round number of, let’s say, $100 billion (USD of course) in damages would be justified. Or maybe, winning ownership of the HHS building would be appropriate justice.

  27. All of my Catholic relatives who voted for Obama in ’08 are planning to vote for him again, even the ones who have lost their jobs in the meantime. As far as i can see, they’re not even giving it a second thought. Democrats are good, and Republicans are bad. Democrats care for the little guy, and Republicans only care about the guy from the Monopoly game.

    It’s exhausting and dispiriting.

  28. ron chandonia says:

    This was quite an amazing thread–and still more evidence of the extent to which partisan alliances color our judgments these days, even in a case where both the poor and the Catholic Church are being harmed. The issue here is not budget cuts; the news reports make it clear that grants for this social service are going to be awarded to some organization. However, the rules of the game were evidently changed in order to further the interests of the reproductive rights lobby–and perhaps to punish our Catholic bishops for being so outspoken about the abortion issue. As a result, a successful effort against sex trafficking will have to be curtailed or discontinued. Surely that ought to strike anyone who cares about the poor–no matter how strong his other allegiances–as a shameful injustice.

  29. Ron chandonia has finally laid out the issue around this thread correctly. It has nothing to do with budget cuts, but a move to punish a Church who is being very outspoken on the issue of abortion and no special rights for gays. I would assume that the Obama administration thought they had complete cover in the Catholic Church and that the social justice crowd would not make too much noise over what the Pope has called non negotiable issues of aborton and marriage between one man and one woman. Thus they fire shots like this across the bow and wait for the liberal Catholics to come out of the woodwork blaming the GOP and faithful catholics for this action which appears to be working to a certain extent from this comment string. This is politics Chicago style which has been going on for the past three years and at some point, everyone should recognize it. Reward friends and punish enemies and silence critics. This is only another shot folks and it is going to get very ugly.

    For those who seem to think the Church leadership should not be making statements following cannon law on the Eucharist and who should not present themselves to receive the sacrament, I wonder exactly what they expect the Church to do in this matter. Anyone who has studied canon law and other church teaching knows full well that everyone is not supposed to trot up for sacraments. We have an obligation to follow church teaching and I would think this would concern all when we are talking about the Body and Blood of our Lord. The simple fact is that some Bishops have quoted the laws as they exist and other Bishops are choosing to ignore that teaching and/or handle it in a different way. However, to suggest that this has anything to do with what a single bishop does is going to be shown for that error if and when the USCCB sues over the issue raised in this blog post. This is not about who can recieve the Eucharist and everything about politics and punishment and reward. I would bet if we examined who got the money, it would have direct connections to donations and support of the Democratic Party similar to the funds going out for green energy. They have little to do with creating jobs or protecting the environment and everything to do with corruption. Only solution to to dramatically shrink the scope and power of the federal government and protect us all from both parties.

  30. Henry Karlson says:

    If it is a move to “punish” the Church, then the Church wouldn’t be getting other funding — but it is. The cry of “they are persecuting us” while getting more funding for programs (which are also anti-abortion!) should make one think.

    There is a partisan game going on. It’s those who are trying to use ANY action under an Obama administration in a bad light, without considering other possibilities. It’s always the same – even when Obama does BETTER than what Bush did, Bush is portrayed as a hero, Obama evil.

    And to say, “if you are defending Obama, you must be pro-Obama” or to suggest it would be wrong.

    I don’t think the GOP are out to persecute the Church despite the fact they are trying to defund programs of the Church. If someone said they were trying to persecute the Church, I would call them out too.


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