Are federal agencies increasingly moving against the Catholic Church in a worrisome new sign of emerging anti-Catholicism? Or is just more political hyperbole in the runup to next year’s election? 

The latest controversy is the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision last month not to renew a contract with the U.S. bishops’ migration services office to provide 24/7 emergency assistance to victims of human trafficking. 

A Washington Post investigation found that the Church agency was turned down in favor of an agency that scored higher on an assessment — but also in favor of two that scored worse. It found further that the decision to leapfrog the two poorer-rated agencies over the bishops’ agency was made by higher-level appointees of the Obama administration — and that the interference from above angered HHS staffers. 

This is not a question of Catholics or pro-lifers being asked to live and let live in a pluralistic society.

The bishops’ conference is weighing its options, including filing a lawsuit (see story, Page 4). Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations, said the Church’s stance on abortion, sterilization and contraception appears to be the reason it lost out on the contract — even though its high score already included lost points for not referring for “reproductive health services.” 

To those who cry foul, HHS spokespeople and Obama administration officials deny any anti-Catholic bias. In their support, they point out that the bishops’ migration office was just awarded another $22 million contract for other services, and that a number of Catholic agencies — including Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA — have actually seen an increase in federal funding in the past few years. 

To which Sister Walsh has a quick retort: The HHS defenders “sound like a robber pleading before a judge: ‘I deal with banks all the time. This is the only one I’ve robbed.’” 

In fact, enough other “banks” have been hit recently that Catholics — and, in fact, any religious believer — ought to be sitting up and paying close attention to ever increasing pressure to threaten their right to practice their faith in accord with their conscience. 

  •  Pro-choice lawmakers in the House fought legislation passed last month — the Protect Life Act — to prevent forcing pro-life taxpayers from paying for abortions and hospitals from being required to perform them. 
  •  A dozen nurses filed a suit last month accusing a major New Jersey hospital of enacting a policy that would have required them to participate in abortions, despite their conscience objections, and in clear violation of federal and state law. 
  •  A recent New York Times editorial urged federal lawmakers to ignore the conscience-protection protests of Catholic institutions at being coerced in new legislation to pay for abortifacients, contraception and sterilization for all employees. 

This is not a question of Catholics or pro-lifers being asked to live and let live in a society that is pluralistic and contains people with a variety of views. This is Catholics and pro-lifers increasingly being coerced — against their will, against their conscience and against their religious freedom rights — to participate in activity they find morally wrong, including the destruction of innocent human life. 

Catholic have a right to be outraged, and a duty to speak out. But so, too, should all Americans, even if they disagree with this or that Catholic moral position. What is at stake here — and clearly under threat — is the core constitutional right of Americans not to be forced by their government to act contrary to their conscience.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.