The Editors

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Caught red-handed: Catholic Relief Services documents promote condoms

The Editors
The Editors
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BALTIMORE, Maryland, September 6, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Catholic Relief Services was caught promoting condoms in 2008 as part of its fight against HIV/AIDS, even so far as having an official policy to provide “complete and accurate” information on the prophylactics. Under the direction of now-Cardinal Timothy Dolan, they pledged a reform and explicitly backed Pope Benedict’s teaching that condoms merely exacerbate the AIDS crisis.

So why, four years later, was CRS still touting two pro-condom HIV programs in this May 2012 Youtube video? Combined, the programs have reached nearly 60,000 people, they say.

And why, in a 2010 operating manual for a community center in Vietnam, were they telling staff they should “not forget to provide information on local condom provision”?

CRS responds

LifeSiteNews asked CRS about the Vietnam manual last Thursday and was assured later in the day by communications director John Rivera that “CRS does not purchase, promote or distribute condoms, nor do we provide funding to other organizations for the purchase, promotion or distribution of condoms.”

“We continue to review all our publications and programs to ensure there is full compliance with this position. We thank LifeSite News for pointing out this inconsistency, which will be corrected,” he added.

The same day, CRS published a similar statement saying they were “revising” the document, and removed it from their website. They have also removed dozens of other documents with references to condoms.

Pleased with the seemingly swift resolution, on Friday we sought some clarification and asked about the other documents. We asked whether providing “complete and accurate” information on condoms violates CRS policy, and – noting that many of the pulled documents had been written or reviewed by high-level staff at CRS headquarters in Baltimore – we asked whether they were standing by their original statement that all CRS employees abide by Church teaching in their work.

Finally, given that CRS was apparently unable to resolve the scandal despite their pledges of reform after the controversy in 2008, we asked what assurances they could make to Catholic donors that the problems would be resolved this time around.

After multiple attempts to reach them, on Tuesday CRS indicated they would not be responding. Rivera reiterated it again Wednesday: “We’re going to let our statement suffice,” he said.

Scandal and reform

CRS’ official policy of providing “full” information on condoms – and even of potentially cutting funding to partners who refuse to do so – was first revealed by Russell Shaw and John Norton of Our Sunday Visitor on February 17, 2008.

The scandal was blown open in April 2008 when the noted moral theologian Germain Grisez revealed that CRS had distributed a flipchart in Zambia with graphics showing how to use a condom. The professor, then of Mount St. Mary’s University, called for a full investigation of the entire organization by an independent agency with full access to CRS’ materials, employees, and partners. He said any employees complicit in promoting condoms or other serious wrongdoing should be fired and replaced with faithful Catholics.

CRS’ then-chairman, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who was archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, initially defended the organization, writing April 30, 2008 that “in no cases does CRS promote, purchase or distribute condoms.” But he also called for a review and on July 29th, 2008 he said CRS was withdrawing the flipchart and retaining the National Catholic Bioethics Center for future assistance.

On April 6, 2009, Archbishop Dolan told the National Catholic Register that CRS had taken it even further. “We have withdrawn the document, but we and the board of trustees of CRS didn’t want to stop there; we said, ‘Let’s make sure this mistake is never repeated. And let’s make sure that our people in the field completely comprehend, understand and appreciate the Church’s teaching when it comes to chastity,’” he said.

Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations, told the Register that CRS’ view on condoms “is entirely consistent with His Holiness’ position.” Only three weeks earlier, the Pope had provoked controversy after his comments on condoms aboard the flight to Africa.

CRS’ response seemed so resolute that LifeSiteNews held them up as a model of swift and transparent reform in an April 8, 2009 article comparing them with the Canadian bishops’ scandal-plagued aid organization Development & Peace.

Scandal redux?

So what happened? Was the pledge of reform just smoke and mirrors? Good intentions that dissipated over time? Or perhaps it’s just that a few problematic documents have slipped through the cracks?

Overall, CRS’ programs seem to have a clear emphasis on abstinence and fidelity. But the organization undermines that strong message when they mention condoms as a viable option, talk about their benefits, or, God forbid, tell clients where to get them. Unfortunately, it appears that they have been doing that even after the 2008 scandal.

Consider:

  1. Windows of Hope, a life skills program for 8-12 year-olds that CRS adapted for use in Sierra Leone, includes an “HIV puppet show” that suggests the facilitator tell children “some people use a condom” to protect themselves from infection.

    “A condom is a rubber tube that is put on a man’s penis before having sex,” it continues. “If a condom is used correctly, it keeps the fluids from the penis and vagina from mixing and this way keeps ME out of THEIR bodies. Remember that condoms are not always safe, as they may break during sexual intercourse.”

    CRS began using Windows of Hope in 2006, and have continued to use it as part of a program funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS from February 2008 to December 2012. CRS says the project “aims to have reached 30,000 adolescents and 90,000 secondary beneficiaries.” The curriculum has been unavailable on CRS’ website since Thursday, the day we questioned them.

  2. We Stop AIDS, an HIV prevention education curriculum published in 2007, includes an activity with a drawing of a box of condoms. It states: “Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that create open sores considerably increase the chances of both partners getting infected. This is why many HIV prevention programs also emphasize using condoms and getting treated for any STIs.”

    The program, along with its youth version In Charge!, was still being used as of May 2012, when CRS released a Youtube video promoting it.

    In the video, CRS program specialist Adele Clark says the two programs have been used in four African countries and they “continue to roll it out in other countries.” So far, the adult version has reached about 18,000 people and the youth version about 40,000, according to CRS. Both of these programs were unavailable at CRS’ website as of press time.

  3. In India, CRS appears to be recommending condoms as part of a “positive living” approach for those infected with HIV. In the northeast part of the country, they have been running an HIV care and support program called LIFEAID since 2008, using what they call Positive Living Centers.

    A training guide for counselors at these centers, published in 2010, indicates that one of the steps for “positive living” is to “practice safe sex.” Another handbook for counselors at the LIFEAID project, which was published sometime after October 2008 and appears to be an earlier version of the previous training guide, specifically suggests counselors facilitate discussions with couples on “condom use.”

    The training guide is now unavailable on CRS’ website. The handbook can be found at the website of Caritas Jordan.

    The LIFEAID project built on the “best practices” of a previous CRS project called Preventing AIDS in Northeast India (PANI), which ran from 2004-2008. An evaluation of PANI conducted by CRS staff, published in March 2008 and now also unavailable on the website, indicates a clear interest from CRS headquarters in condoms as a method of prevention.

    Throughout the PANI evaluation, the authors include “condom use” among a list of “correct ways” of protecting against HIV. They lament that there was not enough information given about condoms in the program, noting particularly that youth had not been adequately targeted with the condom message.


‘Personnel is policy’

So we’re clearly not talking about a few stray documents, but a range of programs being implemented in numerous countries on at least two continents. This suggests we’re dealing with a far deeper concern that simply cannot be addressed by merely revising a few documents – which seems to be the approach CRS took in 2008 and may be taking again now in 2012.

Phil Lawler, the editor of Catholic World News, pinpointed what we believe is the crux of the issue at CRS: “Personnel is policy.” As Lawler points out, the problem isn’t simply the existence of CRS documents that promote condoms, but a CRS policy that has evidently allowed such documents to be published. “Revising the document won’t solve the problem, if the people responsible for putting that policy in place remain,” he writes.

Consider: The lead author on the PANI evaluation from March 2008 was Dr. Shannon Senefeld. She was also one of the named contributors to the pro-condom policy that sparked the scandal in 2008. Then in 2010 – after the scandal, after the promises of reform – she’s named as having helped write and review the Vietnam operating manual that told staff they should “not forget to provide information on local condom provision.” And she vetted the 2010 LIFEAID counseling handbook that urged HIV clients to “practice safe sex.”

Then in September 2011, Senefeld was promoted to Global Director of Health and HIV, where she oversees CRS’ entire HIV operation.

Senefeld also represents CRS as co-chair for HIV/AIDS at the CORE group, which is a major promoter of contraception. CRS has defended their relationship with CORE by arguing that it allows them to “contribute our Catholic voice to the conversation.”

Consider another named contributor to the original pro-condom policy: Daphyne Williams. LifeSiteNews reported Aug. 21st that Williams had worked only at pro-abortion organizations, including one called Pro-Choice Resources, in the years immediately before she was hired by CRS in 2008.

Responding, CRS stated Aug. 24th that Williams “has carefully abided by all Church teaching in her work for CRS, adhering to CRS’ strong position against the use of contraceptives and abortions.” But it seems that is belied by the fact that Williams also helped write and review the Vietnam operating manual, along with Senefeld and others.

In fact, CRS’ HIV/AIDS department seems to be filled with staff who have either vetted or written documents that promote condoms in some way: Jennifer Overton, Deputy Regional Director, East Africa Regional Office; Dr. Sok Pun, Health and HIV/AIDS Program Manager in Cambodia; Dr. Amy Ellis, Regional Technical Advisor for Health & HIV in Asia; Kristin Weinhauer, Senior Health & HIV Technical Advisor; Dr. Dorothy Brewster-Lee, Senior Technical Advisor.

Time to clean house?

CRS’ approach to reform seems to have been the same failed strategy that has plagued the Church’s recent responses to scandal, whether it be over clergy sex abuse or Catholic development agencies: entrust the reform to the very people who caused the scandal in the first place.

Thus we would submit that if CRS has failed to fully implement the reforms they had promised back in 2008 and 2009, it’s because they failed to clean house.

They need to go back and reconsider Prof. Grisez’s important counsel: “If the appearances of betrayal with respect to condoms are verified or other serious wrongdoing is found, those responsible should be fired and replaced by capable people with a good understanding of Catholic charitable apostolate and a firm commitment to act as faithful agents of the Church.”

 

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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