Relations between the Obama administration and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops haven’t exactly been smooth, to say the least. For the past several years, beginning with the battle over the “Stupak amendment” and running through the ongoing dispute over the contraception mandate, the two sides have seemed to be locked in perpetual opposition. Now, a new decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to  end a grant  to the bishops’ Migration and Relief Services for an anti-human trafficking program promises to further escalate tensions between the government and the Church.

While HHS was in no way obligated to renew the grant to the bishops’ program, the sudden decision to shift the money away from a program which has assisted over 2,700 women seems like an irregular and studied choice on the part of government officials, who are generally accustomed to doing things by rote.

A government spokeswoman equivocated when asked whether the denial of the grant might have had anything to do with Catholic teaching on life issues:

Marrianne McMullen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Administration for Children and Families, wouldn’t say whether abortion or contraceptive policy played a role in the awards.

“HHS’s primary focus in serving victims of human trafficking is ensuring that they have access to the high quality and comprehensive case management services they need,” she said in an e-mail. “These are individuals who have endured traumatic experiences in many cases and who face uniquely complex challenges.”

Though the administration has refused to provide an official explanation as to why the grant money was suddenly redirected,  a longstanding ACLU lawsuit may offer another clue .

It looks as if a nasty bureaucratic campaign of attrition may be developing against the bishops for their moral consistency.

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