The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) doesn’t have the best record for taking the moral high ground. Generally, realpolitik trumps.
There is the case of the USCCB application for government money to assist victims of human trafficking. Government money always has strings. The USCCB, to its credit, made it clear that, as a Catholic organization, the money could not be used for victim services that would “refer or fund activities … contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs.” In other words, service providers subcontracted by the USCCB could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials.
This is reasonable enough, not as a religious but as a practical position. Why should people who are sexually exploiting others be assisted in their diabolical behavior by further dehumanizing the victim? “What! You’ve been raped? Well, let’s be sure you’re sterile, too.”
(Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd of Religious Sisters Filippini)
There was a time that thinking would have applied to the rapist.
Nevertheless, in March 2012 a federal judge ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cannot impose religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services for victims of human trafficking…which is what it evidently thought it was doing by giving money to the USCCB.
Understandably, those working in this area have been discouraged by the ruling. One United Nations Special Rapporteur praised a recent Vatican summit for religious leaders and groups who work to end trafficking, citing Church teachings on sexuality, especially its condemnation of pornography and masturbation, as the most effective way to dry up the demand for sex slaves.[i]
This doesn’t, of course, deter the USCCB or various groups within the Catholic Church from continuing to address the problem. For example, the Institute of the Religious Teachers Filippini, founded primarily as a teaching order, have expanded their scope to create an international network of missions and safe houses in Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Eritrea (a small African country on the Red Sea), and India, to rescue girls as young as six.
It does, however, emphasize two things, namely that contraception and abortion aren’t just “private, bedroom” matters and that their access is diabolically hurtful to women and children.
It would have been so easy to “wink” at what its subcontractors do but, this time, the USCCB stood its ground.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume work, 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing among Religious Bodies', available at Amazon.
Facts about human exploitation:
21 million is the estimated number of persons being exploited, worldwide.
68% are subjected to forced labor, while three fourths of are forced to work where they live or in their place of origin.
22% are subjected to sexual slavery. Most of them are women and girls.
5.5 million (26%) are minors below the age of 18 years.
Source: International Labour Organisation
[i] John Goerke, “The Catholic Church and Human Trafficking,” Juicy Ecumenism, blog for Institute on Religion and Democracy, 3-19-14.