Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Pic by US Mission Geneva, via Flickr)

This week, Congress will hold yet another hearing addressing a grievance from Catholic bishops, this time about a recent loss of federal funds.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on Thursday titled, “HHS and the Catholic Church: Examining the Politicization of Grants,” the committee’s schedule shows.

The hearing will discuss a decision made several weeks ago by a federal health agency to deny millions in federal funds for a charity run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The funds were for the bishops’ relief program for victims of human trafficking. The group lost the money because it refused to refer victims for contraceptives or abortion services. Three other groups that provide a wider range of services to victims were awarded the grants instead.

The bishops have exercised their immense political power to garner congressional hearings on topics they take particular issue before. Earlier this month, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health met to discuss the federal government’s decision to require health insurers to cover birth control services without co-payments.

The debate that day centered on a provision that allows religious employers to opt out of the mandate, derided mostly by Catholic groups because they claim it is not broad enough. The bishops have led the charge in denouncing the decision.

The Washington Post reported that letters were sent to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius by “more than 30 Republican lawmakers,” arguing that the decision to defund the Catholic human trafficking relief program “was unfair to the Catholic group and might violate federal laws banning discrimination based on religion”:

Two of the letters are seeking internal HHS documents relating to the decision and one, sent Monday by Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), said his investigative committee may issue subpoenas if HHS doesn’t comply.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops conference, said Friday that she welcomed the letters from Congress. “The more we look at this, the more concerned we are about it,” she said. “It appears the grant process was manipulated.”

One letter to Sebelius, by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and signed by 24 other senators, made a similar point. “The integrity and lawful administration of our federal grant process — particularly with respect to equal treatment of religious institutions — must not be compromised,” it said.

The Post previously reported that Health and Human Services officials have denied any anti-Catholic bias in their decision-making.

The bishops have become well known for using their political power to roll back important protections and legal rights, mostly in the realm of reproductive rights. The Huffington Post recently described the bishops as a “group of men with no real background in law or medicine, but blessed with a strong personal interest in women’s bodies, [that] have quietly influenced all of the major anti-abortion legislation over the past several years. “

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