Catholic Charities voices concern about government trends


Recent funding decisions by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are a concern to Brian O’Malley, president of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, in the effort to help victims of human trafficking.

The U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services learned recently that HHS did not issue a grant to their agency, as it had done previously, even though the bishops’ organization has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking since 2006. Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, commented that she hoped the Catholic Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a 2009 lawsuit, which is still pending, against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not requiring the U.S. Catholic bishops’ agency to include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program.

O’Malley said, “The concern we have is the trend here, that government funding is going to be restricted somehow by insisting that the Church modify its beliefs.”

He added that in the local fight against human trafficking, Catholic Charities of St. Louis received a grant from the state of Missouri for the current fiscal year. The human trafficking efforts are primarily done at Catholic Charities Community Services Southside Center in south St. Louis. O’Malley said. He explained that St. Louis, because of its centralized location, is in some ways “a hotbed” of human trafficking, with an emphasis on victims of illegal labor situations.

But, on a broader level, O’Malley cited two big concerns he has with other recent government actions: “One, religious freedom — our right to practice our religion; and two, lost in these arguments is that all these services for the poor are at risk.”

O’Malley pointed to the recent events in Illinois, in which the state said that Catholic agencies were discriminatory in foster care and adoption services because they would not place children with same-sex couples. The federal health care law, which would mandate health insurance plans to cover abortion drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations, is another example, O’Malley said.

The bishops have called the religious exemptions that the federal government would allow for the health care law “too narrow,” with its requirement that, to qualify, the religious organization must serve only those who are already members of its church.

“Catholic Charities doesn’t just help Catholics. We have never held to that notion,” O’Malley said. “Our first obligation is to serve the poor. By doing so we are a great witness to the Church.” He estimated that perhaps 85 percent of people helped by Catholic Charities here are non-Catholic.

He called recent developments threatening Church efforts fighting human trafficking “frustrating.” O’Malley said, “The Church has been in the forefront of bringing this issue to people’s attention all across the country because of the Church’s long history working with immigrants, refugees and migrants.”


‘ABC Factor’

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, posted a blog about what she calls “the unwritten reg at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” She calls it the “ABC Rule. Anybody But Catholics.”

Read her blog at

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