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.