Did US bishops’ international aid agency violate Trump policy defunding abortions abroad?
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BALTIMORE, Maryland, April 8, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A year-long investigation into Catholic Relief Services has uncovered compelling evidence that the international aid organization founded by the American bishops may have violated a U.S. policy that bars taxpayer funding to organizations abroad that commit or promote abortion.
The Virginia-based Lepanto Institute recently released reports showing Catholic Relief Services (CRS) partnered with abortion-promoting organizations in Cameroon and Nigeria in projects funded by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID).
In both cases, the project dates overlapped President Donald Trump’s January 2017 reinstatement of the pro-life Mexico City Policy banning government funding of foreign pro-abortion groups.
The Trump administration also extended the policy beyond USAID family planning programs to include “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies.”
That includes “funding for HIV under PEPFAR [President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief], maternal and child health, malaria, nutrition, and other programs,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s explanation of the policy.
And “as a result of a March 2019 policy announcement and subsequent information released in June 2019,” for the first time the policy also “prohibits foreign NGOs [non-governmental organizations] who accept the policy from providing any financial support using any source of funds and for any purpose to other foreign NGOs that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning,” it states.
“This is a very grave situation, and CRS owes answers to the Catholics from whom it is constantly asking for funds,” Lepanto Institute founder and president Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews.
“CRS referred vulnerable children to ardent promoters of abortion in two different countries, and if it also provided funding to them in violation of the Mexico City Policy, we need to know it,” he said.
Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute echoed this.
“There have been many questions raised about CRS’s work over the years and Michael Hichborn has now offered a new even more serious one: that CRS may have violated the Mexico City Policy in its grants to abortion-promoting organizations. The public deserves to know the truth,” he told LifeSiteNews in an email statement.
“The key to the proof of the Mexico City Policy violations is that the organization CRS was funding was advocating for abortion after Trump’s reinstatement of the policy, and CRS was facilitating the funding to the group after Trump reinstated the policy,” Hichborn said.
His year-long investigation revealed that CRS received $7.1 million in USAID funding from 2014 to 2018 for its KIDSS program in Cameroon, which set up services for orphans and vulnerable children and during which CRS partnered with pro-abortion National Network of Aunties, or Renata.
In a March 16 report, Hichborn established that:
- During the CRS grant period, Renata was actively involved in the promotion of “safe abortion” in Cameroon and the decriminalization of abortions. In May 2018, when it was simultaneously recruiting for CRS’s KIDSS project, Renata took part in a “Needs Assessment on Safe Abortion Advocacy,” which states on page 17: “Various organizations in Cameroon, such as Women for Change, IPPF, PSI, RENATA are advocating for safe abortion services, changing the legality conditions and provision of contraceptives.”
- As evidence of the direct relationship between CRS and Renata, the latter posted an advertisement (here) on behalf of CRS, hiring for positions related to the KIDSS project. A Linked-In profile of Gael Ekobono identified his work from September 2018 to 2019 as “Case Manager” for “Catholic Relief Services/RENATA/KIDSS,” which he later changed to “RENATA/KIDSS.”
In the second instance, CRS received USAID funding of $41 million from 2013 to 2019 for its SMILES program in Nigeria, again to develop support networks for orphans and vulnerable children.
In a March 25 report, Hichborn established that:
- CRS partnered with ActionAid Nigeria, a pro-abortion group that publicly denounced Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy (here), and currently promotes legal abortion as a main point on its website.
- CRS held a competitive bidding process for the SMILES program and entered into contracts with beneficiary groups (NGOs) that included abortion lobby group Girl Power Initiative. GPI’s co-founder Bene Madunagu is on the board of Ipas, which describes itself on its website as “the only international organization solely focused on expanding access to safe abortion and contraceptive care,” and is a member of the International Consortium for Medical Abortion.
LifeSiteNews contacted US Health and Human Services about the allegations, and was referred to USAID. A USAID press contact said they were looking into the matter, but had not provided a statement by press time.
CRS must admit wrong and bishops must act: commentators
The Catholic aid agency must take responsibility for what it has done, and the bishops must act, Hichborn said.
“Whoever allowed this to happen should be fired, and CRS needs to immediately apologize for doing such a wicked thing and do everything possible to correct the situation,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“Once again, we reiterate our call for a completely independent, third-party investigation of CRS’s projects and call upon bishops to end their support for CRS, until it is forbidden from receiving funding from abortion and contraception-supporting agencies in accord with Pope Benedict’s 2012 Motu Proprio ‘On the Service of Charity’, which is still in effect and remains unchanged,” added Hichborn.
The Motu Proprio forbids Catholic charitable organizations from receiving funding from agencies that act directly against Catholic moral teaching, and also notes in paragraph 10, § 3, that “lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.”
Deal Hudson, former editor of Crisis, writer and political commentator, also called for action.
“Michael Hitchborn at the Lepanto Institute has years of research showing that Catholic Relief Services and other Catholic social service organizations knowingly give money and support to ‘partners’ engaged in abortion and contraception. It has to stop!” he told LifeSiteNews in an email.
“Catholic Relief Services should not be allowed to hide behind the excuse that their support for 'partner' organizations does not extend to actions considered morally evil by the Catholic Church,” added Hudson.
Mosher pointed out that CRS is causing scandal.
“Regardless of whether CRS violated the Mexico City Policy, the fact that it partnered with Renata, an organization that lobbies for the legalization of abortion and that ‘support[s]’ women ‘in bringing their pregnancy to early and safe termination,’ is already a cause for serious scandal,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“And one more reason why donors will want to redirect their giving elsewhere.”
CRS and bishops silent on the allegations
LifeSiteNews contacted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) media relations for the bishops’ response to allegations that CRS could be violating the Mexico City Policy, but has not heard back from them at this time.
LifeSiteNews contacted Bishop David Molloy of Rockford, Illinois, chair of the USCCB committee on international justice and peace; Lucas Koach, USCCB director of the committee on international justice and peace, but has not heard from them at this time.
LifeSiteNews contacted Msgr. Brian Bransfield, executive secretary for the USCCB and a member of the CRS advisory board, but has not heard back from him at this time.
LifeSiteNews contacted Kim Pozniak and Paul Eagle of CRS but has not heard back from either at this time.