Suit decries US funding of Catholic outreach
The US Department of Health and Human Services hired the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 to help immigrants who had been forced into prostitution or slave labor. The bishops have disseminated millions of dollars in federal funding the past two years to an array of nonprofits, including the International Institute of Boston, that directly assist victims.
"We think this is a blatant violation of the separation of church and state," said Brigitte Amiri, the lead ACLU attorney in the lawsuit against Health and Human Services. "The federal government never should have allowed this in the first place."
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the Catholic bishops in Washington, acknowledged the restrictions, saying they are in keeping with the church's religious and moral beliefs. She said they won the federal contract because they offer an extensive network of services for victims, including access to healthcare, housing, and job training. The bishops have received about $6 million in federal funding to aid more than 600 victims nationwide.
"These are people who are in a desperate situation. They need help, and the Catholic Church is willing to help," Walsh said. "The government obviously has decided who can best help them address this problem in trafficking."
The ACLU and others say the church's restrictions pose a serious health risk. Sex-trafficking victims have a higher incidence of HIV and other diseases, and failure to educate them about condoms could increase the risk of future transmission.
They said the church should not impose its beliefs about abortion on victims who often are traumatized, do not speak English fluently, and are unaware of their options in the United States. Many have been repeatedly raped and some were forced to become pregnant as a way of controlling them