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Catholic Relief Services promoted MTV show glorifying promiscuous sex

The TV series 'is a near-pornographic 75-minute commercial for fornication and condom use,' says The Lepanto Institute's Michael Hichborn.
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Lisa Bourne By Lisa Bourne

Lisa Bourne By Lisa Bourne

BALTIMORE, MD, March 12, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Catholic Relief Services’ own documents reporting on a project in Kenya show that not only did it implement a condom and contraception-promoting initiative, but it also promoted a vulgar MTV-produced television series, "Shuga", that highlights condom-use and casual sex.

“'Shuga' is a near-pornographic 75-minute commercial for fornication and condom use,” Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute, told LifeSiteNews. “That CRS actually recommended this series says a lot about their internal views on what is appropriate and in line with Catholic teaching.”

The television program features heavy promotion of condom use, explicit sex scenes, women shown in their underwear and numerous scenes of sexually lewd discussions and sexually suggestive dancing.

The reports show the US Bishops’ relief charity’s program exposed more than 3,000 kids to the objectionable television series.

The Lepanto Institute and Population Research Institute (PRI) obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request as part of the groups’ investigation of CRS’ Healthy Choices 2 (HC2) program. The program targeting Kenyan adolescents and was funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

"Shuga" was classified by CRS among its “AB” programs, a foreign assistance industry designation meaning Abstinence and Be Faithful.

“There was no abstinence in 'Shuga',” said Hichborn. “There's nothing A or B about this program. It's all about the condom.”

One story line is about a woman who cheats on her boyfriend, he explained. “Aside from the emotional issues regarding fidelity, her ‘mistake’ was not using a condom one time,” Hichborn said. “According to 'Shuga' that is.”

Representatives of another international Catholic agency were critical of this brand of relief aid. “Human Life International’s missionaries see these terrible programs promoted in Africa all the time, often by USAID and PEPFAR-sponsored NGOs,” Stephen Phelan, director of mission communications for Human Life International (HLI) told LifeSiteNews. “They promote promiscuity and contraception as being ‘safe,’ which logically and naturally leads to increased STD transmission and abortion, since children are being lied to.”

“Where is the CRS campaign that puts out that radically different and authentically Catholic vision for love, marriage, chastity and sexuality?” Phelan asked. “And the policy that says only THIS campaign and THESE materials will be promoted by CRS?”

PRI President Steven Mosher agreed. “At a time when the Catholic Church is concerned to protect children from even a hint of sexual abuse, I find it mind boggling that CRS would be involved in an MTV production that promotes sex and condoms to children,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews. “What was CRS-Kenya thinking?” 

PRI, HLI, and the Lepanto Institute continue their call for reform of the US Bishops’ foreign aid agency after their March 3 report detailing CRS’ implementation of HC2, which promotes condoms and abortifacients, and showing CRS took part in altering government documents to cover up its involvement.

CRS has been the subject of numerous allegations of promoting programs that conflict with Catholic Church teaching, with Catholics objecting and calling for reform and replacement of programs pushing contraception, abortifacients, abortion and homosexuality. The criticism is largely met with silence, denial, promises to address the matter, and even censure of those bringing forth the concerns.

The March 3 report came from months of online investigation of CRS documents, corroborated by its sub-partners’ websites and substantiated by months of in-country investigation.

HLI had joined the other two groups in the report’s release because of the gravity of its content, and because CRS and USCCB leadership refused for months to meet to discuss the report’s findings.

CRS responded to the report at the time of the March 3 press conference, labeling the charges “misleading, exaggerated, and untrue.”

CRS’s critics contended its response demonstrated the agency didn’t even carefully review the charges leveled against it, as it simply denied aspects proven in the report’s documents, and referenced claims and agencies not even in the report.

CRS also cast aspersions on the in-country investigator instead of addressing the investigation’s findings.

"With each new revelation, CRS's continued denials are less and less credible," Mosher told LifeSiteNews.

Hichborn concurred. "After our initial investigation, CRS issued a hurried response designed more for damage control than careful and sincere consideration of the facts,” he told LifeSiteNews. “CRS clearly didn't read the report as carefully as they claimed, since their very first bullet is a response to an allegation that was never made against them.”

The groups requested the FOIA documents while researching for the March 3 report, and in the course of reviewing the material, discovered additional information on objectionable CRS programs, including "Shuga".

“Haven’t we seen enough of these truly ugly and destructive sex miseducation campaigns?” Phelan asked.

"CRS can't deny that they implemented 'Shuga' because they said they reported it in their own documents,” said Hichborn.

CRS also cannot say that they phased out the program, Hichborn pointed out, because CRS later suggested implementing "Shuga" I and II in a grant application to PEPFAR in 2012, a year after CRS implemented the program. 

CRS provided the following statement, titled 'Catholic Relief Services Responds to False Allegations of Shuga Video in Kenya,' to LifeSiteNews on its Kenyan AIDS relief program involving "Shuga":

During year one of Support and Assistance to Indigenous Implementing Agencies (SAIDIA), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was not implementing the Shuga project. Rather, another secular organization was working with partners to carry out activities. When CRS took over the grant in year two, we made special effort to share with partners which activities would be contrary to Catholic teaching, given partners were used to working in year one under a secular organization.

Around the time CRS began overseeing the SAIDIA project, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out Shuga as an evidence-based intervention (EBI) nationally. CDC directly introduced local implementing partners to the Shuga video at a training.  CRS partners did not like Shuga and found it inappropriate for the populations with whom they worked, particularly since many of the partners were Catholic. Subsequently, only one secular CRS partner, Movement of Men Against AIDS in Kenya (MMAK), used Shuga as part of their abstinence and fidelity programming and only used it for a very short period of time.

When CRS learned MMAK was using these materials that were not in line with Catholic teaching within its abstinence and fidelity programming, CRS specifically instructed all partners not to use Shuga and informed CDC that SAIDIA would not use this video within our abstinence and fidelity work.

The SAIDIA FY2011 annual report to CDC correctly notes that the video was used as part of the abstinence and be faithful (AB) activities in FY2011, but stopped at the end of quarter three when CRS learned the materials were being used and were not appropriate for use within our programming.

This is a good example of how CRS continuously reviews and adjusts, working with local partners and donors, to ensure our programs are in line with Catholic teaching. 

The statement doesn’t dispute the charges regarding "Shuga", the groups say, and even concedes CRS involvement.

“Actually, CRS admits that the allegations are true, and then explains how the mishap happened on their watch,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews.

The SAIDIA FY2011 annual report to CDC written by CRS "correctly notes that the video was used," Mosher pointed out, raising the question of how then can the allegations against CRS be called false?

“It goes without saying that when an organization like CRS takes over a project, it is responsible for all of the activities of that project,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews. “The time to object to morally objectionable aspects of the project is before you assume responsibility, not after complaints surface.”

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“It seems like they confirm most of the charges in the details of their statement,” Phelan told LifeSiteNews.

"I appreciate CRS explaining how 'Shuga' was implemented by one of its partners in the SAIDIA project,” Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “If they were so appalled by it, wouldn't they recoil at the thought of using it in the future? This is just one more illustration of the continuing problems of CRS working closely with organizations that promote contraception and abortion.”

“Unless and until CRS ends its collaboration with such groups,” Mosher said, “such lapses will continue to occur.”

PRI, HLI and the Lepanto Institute say they want CRS to help people in need with genuine Church teaching at the forefront, and with true regard for the people’s needs.

“Why is there not a fully and authentically Catholic sex education series to which CRS limits itself in promoting?” Phelan said.

Mosher underscored this. "The people of Kenya aren't demanding more sex education and condoms for their kids, but help in treating tropical diseases and clean drinking water,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews. “In refusing to compromise Church teaching CRS might very well lose some of its funding. But by working through local bishops to meet the people's real needs, CRS could arguably do more with less."

 “The bottom line is that CRS clearly isn't taking our information seriously,” Hichborn said. “Because it's more interested in spinning the reports than actually investigating our findings.”

Despite the blanket refusal to meet with the groups on the concerns, they persist in the desire to work with the bishops on authentic renewal of their relief agency.

“HLI remains concerned that CRS will not discuss these matters directly, which forces these debates into the public sphere,” Phelan told LifeSiteNews. “Though it appears that CRS sometimes, eventually, cleans the programs up, and other times it does not, why are we even having this conversation?”

“Of course, we remain open to meeting whenever it can be arranged,” Hichborn said.

"The reforms that the organization has undertaken to date have obviously failed to bring all of its programs into line with Catholic teaching,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews. “We at the Population Research Institute stand ready to assist the American bishops in reforming what is, after all, their charity."


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