July 29, 2013 (pop.org) - In our month-long, on-the-ground investigation of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) activities in Madagascar, Population Research Institute (PRI) found that the organization was directly involved in the promotion and distribution of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in contravention of Church teaching.

CRS has responded that “We are puzzled by quotes [from CRS employees] saying we do “the same work” in family planning as secular organizations since none of the work that CRS does in Madagascar is in this area.”

That is not what CRS employees in Madagascar told us.

For example, our investigator interviewed Nicolas Ragalison and Jean Ferlin Nambana, who are both [Health]  Support Technicians (also called “Zone Supervisors”) for Catholic Relief Services in USAID’s SantéNet2 Program in the Madagascar City of Tamatave on 30 November 2012. There are 12 Support Technicians, in all, of whom 3 work for CRS and 9 for USAID. Each has responsibility for a specific geographic area.

PRI: Does the official teaching of the Catholic Church on family planning hinder the work of the CRS zone supervisors in the program?  Can you work just like the other [non-CRS Support Technicians]s?

CRS: There are several “actors” in the program. There are “independent trainers” under SantéNet2. So in training in family planning, CRS relies on the training given [to Community Health Workers (CHW)] by those independent trainers.

PRI: [Is there any]way that CRS can possibly participate in this program without collaborating in the promotion of artificial contraception?

CRS: We technicians, working in parallel with the Social Development Committees, have a support role with the Community Health Workers (CHW)…And we have to collect data, make reports, send the reports/data.  We have to assure the availability of the products, of all the social-marketing products…

PRI:…including the family planning products, no?

CRS:  Yes. And sometimes there are ruptures in stock.

PRI: So, you CRS technicians and USAID technicians work in the same way under SantéNet2?  I’m asking if there’s a difference in the method of work, in the approach to the work, between the two.

CRS:  It’s the same thing.  We do the same work, including in the area of family planning.

PRI: So, you work with the Community Health Workers; the CHWs are selling modern contraceptives and educating local women in their use, but that doesn’t prevent you [CRS] technicians from working with those CHWs?

CRS: No, not at all.  It’s no problem.

PRI: So you’re working with those CHWs in the area of family planning just like the technicians from [the abortion-promoting group] CARE work with the CHWs?

CRS: That’s right.  It’s the same.

PRI: There are, of course, Catholics and non-Catholics working here.  You’re not Catholic, Jean Ferlin, so artificial contraception and promoting contraception is not a problem for you.  But Nicolas, personally, as a Catholic, it’s not a problem for you?  Or for the other CRS technician who’s a Catholic?  A religious problem?  Since the Church doesn’t approve of artificial contraception?

CRS: No, no.  It’s no problem.  The Catholic Church doesn’t accept the pill or the injection, but it does accept the cycle beads.

PRI: I’ve been told that, in spite of the teaching of the Church, Catholics here, including in very rural areas, will use modern contraception just like everybody else.  Is that what you find in your work?

CRS: Yes, yes; that’s right.  It’s only the “big Catholics” who are against artificial contraception…

PRI:…So the Catholics working for CARE,...and for CRS [under SantéNet] are not going to discourage women from using modern contraception, right?...The CHWs, with your support, have the obligation to present to the beneficiaries all the different contraceptive methods, and then the women choose what they want, right?

CRS: Yes.  That’s right.

PRI: And the authorities from CRS, the health managers from CRS-Tana are not going to come down here and talk to you about the “official teaching of the Catholic Church,” or ask you to do anything different, because of Catholic teaching, or anything like that, are they?

CRS:  No!  No! (Laughing, laughing)

PRI: Have you encountered any major problems with any of your NGO partners in the program?  

CRS:…With Population Services International [an abortion/population control group], there’s just the problem sometimes of ruptures in the supply of products.  

PRI: Does that happen often ...  

CRS:  It’s rare.  Just occasionally with Confiance [the injectable abortifacient depo provera]...And no problem with Protector Plus , or Pilplan [birth control pill], or the cycle beads.

           
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We suggest that before CRS issues blanket denials of its direct involvement in family planning programs, that they talk to their own grassroots employees overseas.  Just as we at PRI did.

Next: African bishops complain about CRS activities.

This article has been re-published with permission from today's Population Research Institute's Weekly Briefing