BALTIMORE, MD, March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Catholic Relief Services took funds to implement Kenyan AIDS relief programs for children that promoted abortifacients and condoms, according to the newest set of charges leveled against the US Bishops’ international aid agency. The latest report also alleges that CRS played a role in falsifying government documents to cover up its involvement in the programs after its leadership learned that word had gotten out on them.
The Lepanto Institute and the Population Research Institute (PRI) have teamed up on the 56-page report, released today after an extensive on-the-ground investigation involving interviews with key players who worked with CRS on the program in Kenya. The CRS-run programs were funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
When PRI and the Lepanto Institute presented their discovery to the US Bishops’ relief agency, its response was that PEPFAR had mistakenly identified CRS with the programs, and that the documents would be “corrected.”
The “correction” referenced in CRS’ response resulted in all mention of CRS running a contraception-pushing program being scrubbed from the documents, according the Lepanto Institute and PRI, who possess copies of the documents from before and after their alteration.
“The most important question at this point is, if CRS went to such lengths to cover this up, what else is CRS trying to hide?” asked Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute.
LifeSiteNews contacted CRS for a response to the report. Director of Communications Paul Eagle said they will release a statement later today, but it was not yet finalized. Eagle claimed there were “significant problems” with the report, but did not specify what they were.
PRI and Lepanto, along with Human Life International (HLI), have attempted to arrange a meeting several times over the last five months with the chairman of the CRS Board of Directors, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, as well as other bishops who serve on the Board. But all of their meeting requests have been denied.
The organizations behind the CRS report feel confident the issue, here and ongoing, lies with CRS not being forthcoming with its governing board.
“Clearly, personnel at CRS panicked when they were confronted with a government document that explained their contraception-pushing programs in Kenya,” Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “Rather than come clean about what they did, they enlisted the help of PEPFAR, who obliged in falsifying the public record so that CRS could hide these terrible programs from the bishops and the faithful.”
Pro-life and Catholic leaders continue to express concerns about the US Bishop’s relief agency for its partnerships with organizations and funding of activities that conflict with Church teaching, such as abortion, contraception and homosexuality.
Government funding at the root of problems: critics
Attempts to inform the bishops of this have continually been dismissed by many bishops, at most garnering promises to look into it, and even eliciting disparagement toward those bringing forth the concerns.
At the same time Catholics have implored that the bishops’ charity remain faithful to the Church, CRS leadership stated last fall the relief organization is “proud” that it does not evangelize in its work.
CRS’ partnerships continue to drive the question of its ability to maintain fidelity to the Church.
“CRS has become part of a consortium that was created to curb overpopulation, promote sexual and reproductive rights and promote safe abortion,” said Mosher. “In this environment of rampant disregard, even mockery, of the Church's teaching and the Natural Law, it is a constant struggle to preserve one's Catholic identity.”
Catholic principles are also problematic to uphold while taking government funding, because acceptance of government grants often means being compelled to push something objectionable, such as abortion and contraception.
Government funding makes up a significant portion of the CRS budget, comprising more than 37 percent of CRS’ annual revenue in Fiscal Year 2013, a total of $229,335,000.
“The moment CRS got in bed with the government, they tied themselves to government requirements,” Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “The seduction of government and foundation money from organizations that push abortion and birth control is very strong, but such money always comes with strings.”
Only a third of CRS’ foreign aid funding is spent directly on programs for which it’s collected, Mosher told LifeSiteNews, with the other two-thirds going to Washington and foreign capitals, and with a lot of money spent on staff and salaries.
“The purpose of the expanding bureaucracy, as you know, is to expand the bureaucracy,” he said. “So the money is hard to turn down, even when it leads to moral compromises.”
The rationale is at times offered that CRS’ good works justify its involvement with questionable groups and activities.
“When I spoke with Archbishop Coakley about the problems with CRS programs in Kenya he brought up the fact that CRS had just opened a new hospital in Haiti,” Mosher said. “Certainly the good that CRS does outweighs the bad, but this is no reason to turn a blind eye to the bad.”
Catholic identity can also be very difficult to maintain when hiring non-Catholics, which is also often a dictate of taking government grants.
“There's no question that there are employees who work at CRS, believing that abortion and contraception are good things,” Hichborn said. “For one thing, because CRS accepts government money, it has to hire people who are not Catholic. For another, CRS is hiring personnel who came from population control organizations like Population Services International.”
Mosher concurred. “Given that many of the employees of CRS are not even Catholic, it is virtually certain that they believe that abortifacients and condoms are good for the people that they give them to,” he said.
CRS implemented 'Healthy Choices' program
The source bringing this latest issue to light was a PEPFAR document titled Kenya Operational Plan Report FY 2012, which names CRS as the main recipient of PEPFAR’s Kenya grant for that fiscal year for a project called, “Support and Assistance to Indigenous Implementing Agencies” (SAIDIA), and for which CRS got $3,857,351.
Five sub-partners in the SAIDIA project were listed; Africa Inland Church, Africa Brotherhood Church, the Archdiocese of Nyeri, Kenya Widows And Orphans Support Programme (KWOSP), and Movement of Men Against AIDS in Kenya (MMAAK).
The programs implemented by CRS were Healthy Choices 1 (HC1) and Healthy Choices 2 (HC2), which the document termed as “evidence-based behavioral interventions” (EBIs). HC1 was geared toward children ages 10-14, while HC2 was for youth ages 15-19.
According to the document, HC2 “provides older adolescents with the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary to reduce their risk of STDs, HIV, and pregnancy by abstaining from sex or using other risk reduction strategies.”
The report shows published materials of sub-partners Africa Brotherhood Church, Africa Inland Church (AIC), and Caritas Nyeri (the Archdiocese of Nyeri) documenting CRS carrying out HC2, specifically focusing on “pregnancy prevention” and “condom use.”
In the documentation from those sub-partners HC2 is labeled an “AB” program, which is organizational jargon for, “Abstinence and Be Faithful.”
HC2’s classification as an AB program and not an “ABC” program, which also includes consistent condom use, is deceitful in and of itself, Hichborn said, given the program’s promotion of condom use.
Africa Brotherhood Church’s webpage indicated it regularly reported to CRS on HC2, and that it continued to partner with CRS from 2010 forward.
'Condoms can be fun'
PRI retained an independent field investigator with a medical background who was fluent in local languages to confirm what PRI and Lepanto had found in Kenya on CRS.
The investigator, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, was able to confirm what the sub-partners had indicated in their own published information on CRS’ implementing of HC2.
And the investigator was also able to get hold of the facilitator’s manuals from sub-partner KWOSP.
The manuals were the same as were found online in the course of the investigation.
Of the HC2 manual’s 255 pages, condom use is referred to 335 times on 101 pages, and contraception is talked about 52 times on 15 pages.
The manual material spells out goals and learning objectives that include building knowledge of contraceptives and how to acquire them, specifically helping kids “express positive feelings toward pregnancy prevention,” “identify correct information about contraceptives,” and “know where to seek further information about contraceptives and how to get them if needed.”
At one point in the manual, the rationale for HC2 is explained as “focusing attention on individual responsibility for the prevention of pregnancy by using contraception,” with activity materials listing things such as samples of contraceptive pills, emergency contraception, and condoms. The accompanying graphic for this activity displays oral contraceptives, male and female condoms, an intra-uterine device and injectable contraception.
The manual describes abortifacients as “very effective methods to prevent pregnancy if taken as prescribed.” It also misrepresents the function of chemical contraception, stating, “Contraceptives will only prevent unplanned pregnancy but will not destroy a foetus if fertilization has already taken place.”
The material also plays down oral contraceptives’ general harmful effects.
In a role-playing exercise called, “Condoms Can Be Fun,” facilitators were told to ask the question, “How would you complete this unfinished sentence: ‘Condoms can also be fun when having sex because …’”
If the following responses were not among the children’s answers, facilitators were told to add them to their list:
You can act sexy/sensual when putting condoms on; You can hide one on your body and ask your partner to find it; You can tease each other sexually while putting on the condom; You can tell your partner that using a condom makes a man; Condoms make the erection last longer; You can use different colors and types/textures; The woman puts the condom on the penis.
On-the-ground investigator confirms direct CRS involvement
Both CRS-Kenya’s secretary and sub-partner MMAAK substantiated CRS’ directing implementation of HC2 for the PRI investigator through interviews.
Sub-partner KWOSP took PRI’s investigator to a high school where HC2 was presented, and students corroborated for the investigator that HC2 included promotion of contraception.
One student spoke of avoiding disease through either the use of abstinence or contraception and recalled learning about both condoms and FemiPlan pills. Another reported being taught that they can use contraceptives to avoid pregnancy and STDs “because these were healthy choices.”
The investigator went to the MMAAK regional office and spoke with the coordinator there, learning something further damning for CRS.
The coordinator told the investigator that while HC2 was being implemented in churches, including condom demonstrations, it was not being done in Catholic churches. “CRS told MMAAK not to take Healthy Choices II to any Catholic School,” the coordinator said.
Lepanto and PRI’s report says this suggests a concerted effort to create a deceptive image that CRS is not in conflict with the Church.
Hichborn first attempted in April 2014 to inform Archbishop Coakley of CRS’ involvement with the contraception-promoting program in Kenya. He did not get a response.
When he did receive communication on the matter, it was six months later, and from the archbishop’s communications director, who denied the request to meet. The spokesperson said that Archbishop Coakley is confident that the matter regarding the PEPFAR document has been resolved, and “PEPFAR apologized for its error and has since corrected the report.”
Any alteration of the PEPFAR document that removes CRS’ involvement with Healthy Choices 2 would be a falsification, and not a correction, PRI and the Lepanto Institute contend.
“What this shows is that CRS not only has the will, but the influence to get a government agency to cooperate with their cover-up,” said Hichborn.
“A cover-up by any name is still a cover up,” PRI President Stephen Mosher told LifeSiteNews.
As the Lepanto Institute, PRI, and HLI seek to shed light on these programs, their representatives encourage Catholics and other members of the faithful to share their concerns and act accordingly.
“I strongly believe that faithful Catholics should send their donor dollars elsewhere,” Mosher said. “To Crux International, for example, which takes no government money, and is thus free to operate in accordance with Catholic teaching.”
“Faithful Catholics should send letters to their bishops and to the bishops on CRS' board of directors,” said Hichborn, “demanding that an independent and thorough investigation of CRS' programs be conducted, that the employees involved in the SAIDIA project and subsequent cover-up be fired, and that CRS be absolutely forbidden from accepting money from or giving money to organizations that push or promote abortion or birth control of any kind.”
Stephen Phelan, director of mission communications at Human Life International, said, “It is HLI’s mission to defend life and family with our partners in Kenya and throughout the developing world, so it is very difficult for us when it appears that the Church is not united in its teaching about human sexuality. It is unfortunate that no one has been able to meet with us regarding the further developments in this case, as our first hope is always that we can address these issues in private.”
“And with all due respect, the published explanation that CRS gave the bishops and their supporters regarding the HC programs in Kenya is simply unbelievable,” he continued. “The number of coincidental ‘errors’ in all of these documents, all of which pointed toward CRS’ implementation of these programs, is very hard to write off. How could PEPFAR have made that many mistakes about how CRS was implementing the project, when the only source of that information would have been CRS’ own program staff?”
“Further, CRS’ attack on the motives of its critics is unjust. Who knows if this public controversy could have been avoided if authorities had agreed to a meeting, but here we are, and the questions raised by PRI’s and Lepanto Institute’s research deserve more careful consideration then they have received to date,” he added.