BALTIMORE, August 26, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Catholic Relief Services ended a longstanding relationship with a Virginia printing company last year because of the company’s ties to a pro-life group that has criticized CRS over its million-dollar grants to pro-abortion groups, LifeSiteNews.com has learned.

The news comes as the U.S. Bishops’ agency has been under fire from pro-life leaders and activists in the last month after LifeSiteNews revealed that they gave over $13 million to the pro-abortion group CARE in 2012 and are in the midst of giving a $2.7 million grant to the abortion marketing firm Population Services International.

On July 26, 2012, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, chairman of CRS’ board of directors, wrote a letter to the bishops to inform them that CRS would not renew its contract with AKA Printing and Mailing because it is owned by the family of Judie Brown, president of American Life League (ALL). AKA was founded by Paul Brown, Judie’s husband, and is currently run by their son Hugh Brown.

AKA has been doing business with CRS for over a decade. From 2009 to 2012, AKA was CRS’ largest independent contractor, according to CRS’ 990s, receiving over $7 million in contracts over that period. (See CRS’ 990s here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).

In his letter, Bishop Kicanas says CRS would end its largest printing contract with AKA as of September 30, 2012 after learning “recently” that AKA is owned by Brown’s family and “maintains a close affiliation with ALL.”

"While the board and I welcome all constructive questions about the work of CRS, we have strongly disagreed with the manner used by ALL in raising its concerns, including tactics used against the USCCB, its members, staff, and programs,” the bishop writes.

Pro-life activist Shaun Kenney, who served as executive director at ALL from 2008 to 2010, told LifeSiteNews that he believes Kicanas’ letter is “black and white” evidence that CRS leveraged its relationship with AKA against American Life League.

“It’s abundantly clear CRS put direct pressure on AKA so that they would put direct pressure on ALL. That is not Catholic,” said Kenney, who is a columnist at RedState.com and is no longer associated with ALL. “It doesn’t live up to the standards of charity we should expect from an authentically Catholic organization.”

Kicanas’ July 26, 2012 letter came after Brown had issued a commentary critical of CRS on July 20, 2012 following LifeSiteNews’ first story on July 17, 2012 revealing that CRS was funding the pro-abortion group CARE. However, Kicanas says the decision to end AKA’s contracts was made earlier, at the CRS board meeting in June.

LifeSiteNews discovered Bishop Kicanas’ letter on a parish website August 6th after CRS’ dealings with AKA were made public by a senior CRS official on Facebook earlier this month. LifeSiteNews contacted Bishop Kicanas the same day, August 6th, but has not heard back by press time.

The Facebook comments came from John Rivera, CRS’ Director of Communications, who was responding August 1 to a post by Michael Hichborn, director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith Project. Rivera was initially responding to Hichborn but then had an exchange with Kenney.

Rivera [to Hichborn]:  …how's AKA's business doing these days? And what was the REAL reason your video on CRS was taken down a couple of years ago. As I recall, we received a note of apology from Judie Brown for it.

Kenney: I wonder how long CRS held that over AKA's head in order to pressure ALL to stay silent...

Rivera: I wonder what it says about ALL's integrity that they'd be silent to preserve a printing contract?

Kenney: were they? or were they pressured to do so by CRS? you deny this?

Rivera: We didn't have to. Once Hugh Brown saw that video he flipped out and contacted us immediately to profusely apologize.

Kenney: CRS *never* pressured AKA or ALL? is that you're telling folks? interesting if so.

Rivera: We're not telling folks anything. We've never publicly discussed this. This is just between us

(See a screen cap of the back-and-forth here.)

Asked for comment on the allegations he made about ALL’s integrity via Facebook and why CRS was going public now about its dealings with AKA, Rivera told LifeSiteNews: “My conversation with Michael on my own Facebook page contained my personal comment. CRS has not made any allegations, and has not made any information publicly available.”

Rivera’s comments on Hichborn’s Facebook page were posted under the handle “John Rivera CatholicRelief”. He also has a private account at “John Rivera”.

CRS also declined comment when asked about allegations from Kenney and others that they used financial pressure to silence ALL.

The ALL video that Rivera refers to was published in May 2011. It included a criticism of CRS’ then-president Ken Hackett for his endorsement of The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. In the book and elsewhere, Sachs promotes population control through “family planning” as a solution to poverty.

A couple of days after the video was posted, Hackett sent a letter of complaint addressed to Judie Brown but used Hugh Brown’s fax number at AKA. ALL pulled the video, but they reposted it on August 21, 2012. In a piece on July 12, 2013, Brown said they had been wrong to pull the video but did not mention the AKA connection.

Questioned by LifeSiteNews.com, Judie Brown acknowledged what she called “veiled threats” that AKA and the ALL board had received over criticism of CRS.

She said her decision to pull the video was because they had neglected to reach out personally before going public. “We felt at least before we put it up, we should have asked them for a statement for what we were going to report. We violated the biblical principle of going to your brother first.”

She said they began publicly criticizing CRS a year later, in July 2012, after meeting with them directly and finding there was no interest in mending their ways.

Since neither CRS nor Bishop Kicanas responded to requests for comment, LifeSiteNews went to Brandon Vogt, a prominent Catholic blogger and speaker who has defended CRS’ grants to pro-abortion groups in the past through his blog and Facebook account. Vogt spoke up for the Catholic agency when LifeSiteNews provided him with the information.

“I don't see any evidence of financial pressure,” said Vogt. “The only relevant info comes from John Rivera's private Facebook account, but the exchange contains no indication of financial pressure. In fact, he explicitly denies it when accused: ‘We didn't have to [apply pressure].’”

Asked if there might be a double standard in the fact that CRS defends its multi-million dollar grants to pro-abortion groups but cut off a printing company because of its association with a pro-life group that criticizes it, Vogt responded that he believes the question “paints an extremely misleading picture.”

“CRS grants only go toward noble projects like providing food, water, and healthcare,” he said. “When they work alongside other groups toward these ends, the money used is non-fungible, meaning it cannot be used for objectionable ends. Therefore insinuating that CRS gives grants which promote the culture of death is disingenuous.”

“Even still, I don't see how their decisions regarding grants are relevant to choosing a printing vendor,” he said. “I don't see any problem cutting ties with a company that publicly admonishes your own company, especially when the critique is unfounded. Any secular-business CEO would take the same approach. CRS did not act unjustly or inconsistently by deciding not to renew their printing contract.”

Kenney, however, responded by clarifying that, “ALL doesn’t receive a dime from Catholic Relief Services.” “What [CRS is] doing is going after the family. It’s almost as though they went after your father in order not to print a news article,” he said.

Contact info:

Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193 Roma, Italy
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3357
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3413
Fax: (011) 39-06-6988-3409
E-mail: cdf@cfaith.va

Find contact information for all U.S. Bishops here.

Readers may also comment on Catholic Relief Services’ Facebook page.