Ending the 'scourge' of human trafficking is the focus for U.S. bishops

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks during a Nov. 14 Mass at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)  Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks during a Nov. 14 Mass at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) 

Decrying "the evil of human trafficking" as an "international, national and local scourge," three Catholic bishops whose dioceses cover portions of Maryland said their state "is not immune from this tragic reality."

"Our state is a prime location for local, national and international trafficking due to the Interstate 95 corridor that connects multiple major cities in the region, the number of truck and rest stops along highways, and the ease of travel that the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport," they said in an April 3 statement.

"As people of faith, this grave injustice cries out for a response," they said. "Yet perhaps the most distressing aspect of human trafficking is the cloak of silence gripping its victims."

Titled "Proclaiming Liberty to Captives," the statement was signed by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware. The Washington Archdiocese and the Wilmington Diocese include counties in Maryland.

The statement was posted on the website of the Annapolis-based Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy of the state's bishops.

Human trafficking includes both labor and sex trafficking. It "rivals the global drug industry in its scope and profits, affecting the lives of countless victims from all over the world," the prelates said.

Human trafficking includes both labor and sex trafficking. It "rivals the global drug industry in its scope and profits," the prelates said.

They cited U.S. State Department statistics that 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across nations' borders worldwide, with 14,500 to 17,500 people trafficked into the United States each year.

The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force's Victims Services Committee identified and provided services to almost 400 survivors of human trafficking in 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available.

They lauded the "significant amount of work of multiple entities" to rescue trafficking victims and meet their needs. These groups also are working "to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, and to write laws to protect victims and prevent others from becoming victims," the bishops said.

"Human trafficking preys upon the vulnerable, such as those seeking to escape poverty and violence, runaways, and those who are hindered by language barriers and ignorance of the law," they said. "Often victims are not even aware they are being exploited."

The Gospel calls people of faith "to break this yoke of modern-day slavery by raising awareness about the scope of this problem and doing all that we can as Catholics to recognize, set free, embrace and empower our brothers and sisters who are victims of human trafficking," the bishops said. They pledged to devote the resources of the Catholic Church in the state "to support, unify and expand" existing anti-trafficking measures.

The Catholic Church plans to sponsor regional trainings in Maryland beginning this spring to be led by national, state and local experts to "shed light" on the issue and to give participants tools to combat trafficking, they said.

In their statement, the bishops noted that Pope Francis "has spoken passionately about this 'plague on the body of contemporary humanity.'" "We join in his call to open our eyes to those who are suffering in our midst."

The day the bishops issued their statement, a Vatican official addressed a conference in Vienna organized by the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, a global forum working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In a speech, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, emphasized the need for "immediate and incisive action" to ensure the safety of child trafficking victims. He said it is an ongoing issue that, as Pope Francis declared, scars "the face of modern humanity."

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