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HHS announcement made MRS plan to help trafficking victims a tough sell

This story is the second in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking.

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of waiting, the federal announcement that staff members of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services had been anticipating became public.

But the Department of Health and Human Services document released May 27 was not exactly what MRS's Hilary Chester, associate director with the Anti-Trafficking Services Program, and Beth Englander, director of special programs, had expected.

The document, called a funding opportunity announcement, was soliciting proposals from qualified nonprofit agencies to operate the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program, under which MRS had provided case management services to foreign-born trafficking victims since April 2006.

Time to take back our government


The name Buddy Roemer might not exactly roll off your tongue -- yet. But he will have a place in the 2012 presidential election story. He’s running on a platform with a timely message, like it or not. Roemer served four terms in Congress from 1981-88 as a Democrat who often broke ranks with his party to vote with President Ronald Reagan, and was Louisiana governor from 1988-92 as both a Democrat and Republican.

USCCB seeks answers to why plan to help trafficking victims was denied

This story is the first in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking.

WASHINGTON -- The letter arrived after business hours at the end of the workweek the last Friday of September in an email message to the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services.

"Thank you for submitting an application for the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program," began the correspondence from George H. Sheldon, acting assistant secretary in the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. "I regret to inform you that your organization's application was not approved for funding."

Sheldon's letter contained little information other than an encouraging word to try again in the future.

Obama seeks balance on contraception, religious beliefs

WASHINGTON -- A White House spokesman said the Obama administration is working to "strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs" as it decides on a religious exemption to the mandate that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilizations by Jan. 1, 2013.

2012 candidates asked to sign religious freedom pledge

An advocacy organization for persecuted Christians has asked the 2012 presidential candidates to sign a pledge stating they would make religious freedom a priority in the United States and overseas if they win the White House.

Open Doors USA joined with religious freedom activist Tom Farr of Georgetown University to draft the pledge, which was unveiled Monday. As of Wednesday, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was the sole signatory among the candidates.

"The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others," reads the pledge.

"At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe."

The pledge, endorsed by prominent conservative organizations and individuals, defends the right to use religious arguments when debating laws about abortion and traditional marriage. It also supports "religiously motivated" charitable work.

Exceptionalism more a fantasy than ever



“America is a unique and exceptional nation.” -- Mitt Romney

Along with flags pinned on lapels and hands over hearts during the national anthem, expressions of American exceptionalism are all but a requirement for anyone seeking political office. Mitt Romney’s use of the phrase is a staple of his stump speeches, as it is of the other Republican candidates now roaming the land in the quadrennial exercise in self-promotion.

Bishops take on health care


BALTIMORE -- The U.S. Catholic bishops voted Nov. 14 during their fall meeting to create a permanent subcommittee on health care issues under the Committee on Doctrine, replacing a task force that had handled a variety of issues related to health care over the past three years.

The task force addressed “everything from medical moral issues to things like pastoral care,” health care reform and hospital mergers, according to its chair, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

Though the work of the task force -- dealing with health care reform or mergers between hospitals -- often intersected with the work of other committees, most of it dealt with ethical and religious directives, Rhoades said, and “those directives are really the responsibility of the Committee on Doctrine.”

The nine bishops who will be part of the subcommittee have not yet been selected, but Rhoades said they may include members of committees who had worked with the task force on health care in the past, such as the committees on Canonical Affairs and Pro-Life Activities.

Obama cannot be at war with Catholics if he is at peace with religious freedom



Sometimes one is tempted to say a plague on both your houses. We're not even close to the 2012 election season and already there are overheated claims that the Obama administration is at war with Catholics.

It is not.

One of the most attractive aspects of President Barack Obama is the significance of faith in his life. Raised outside a formal church of any kind, Obama early on discovered his own life's meaning in giving of himself to others. He also discovered that even the magnanimity of community service could often be misunderstood outside a context of shared belief.

Yet with tea parties and occupiers and dissenters of every variety active in the land, shared belief is increasingly hard for political figures to manifest on a national or even state or regional level. It is easier, but still not without challenge, for churchmen to articulate first principles held in common -- like, for example, that life is a gift; it is sacred; and it is not within our power to forfeit our own life or take that of another.

Religious liberty tops concerns at bishops' meeting


BALTIMORE -- Despite predictions in some mainstream press accounts that the U.S. bishops were preparing for war with the Obama administration on the issue of religious liberty, President Barack Obama’s meeting with bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Dolan at the White House a few days before the bishops assembled for their annual November plenary session in Baltimore seems to have defused the crisis.



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November 20-December 3, 2015


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