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In his own words: Madagascar Archbishop criticizes Catholic Relief Services - full transcript

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Editor’s Note: Population Research Institute has released a full 119-page report of their extensive investigation on Catholic Relief Services actions in Madagascar.  We are publishing here the transcript of an on-the-record taped interview that comprises part of that report. Mosher told LifeSiteNews that the reason for having to publicly divulge the full report was that CRS has issued denials rather than acknowledging the facts.

A PRI investigator conducted the interview with Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina on Nov. 27, 2012. PRI released excerpts of this interview on Aug. 1, 2013, highlighting the Archbishop’s charges that CRS was involved in promoting contraceptives in his diocese.

On Aug. 2, 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a release saying that Archbishop Désiré “expresses strong support” of CRS and indicating he told them that CRS “does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.” In a responding editorial on Aug. 7, LifeSiteNews said many questions remain, though, noting that the USCCB release had not included any direct quotes from the Archbishop, and that it did not say that CRS had never been involved in promoting contraceptives, but merely that they are not currently doing so – perhaps explained by the fact that the offending project ended on July 24, 2013.

However, even putting aside the archbishop's allegations that CRS staff were involved in distributing contraceptives, the interview with the archbishop raises other critical issues: including what the archbishop alleges is CRS's unwillingness to work in conjunction with the local church and bishop, and the fact that the vast majority of its staff are not even Catholic.

The report deserves a careful reading. We are publishing the Archbishop’s words here because we believe it’s important that his perspective get a full hearing.

Interview with Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana
Catholic Archbishop of Toamasina/Tamatave
In the Archbishop’s Office at the Diocesan Center
Toamasina/Tamatave
November 27, 2012

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana was named bishop of Toamasina/Tamatave at the end of 2008, becoming archbishop when Toamasina/Tamatave was elevated to an archdiocese in 2010. He was previously bishop of the diocese just to the north, Fenoarivo Atsinanana.  A matter of days before this interview, he had been elected president of the national bishops’ conference of Madagascar.

PRI Investigator: “So, here in your diocese, do you work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS)?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “[Smiling] Yes.  I work with CRS. … But… [Chuckling]  At the first, you said ‘so-called Catholic [laughing].  I noticed that you said that [laughing].”

PRI Investigator:  “Is that also sort of your opinion; that CRS is ‘so-called Catholic’?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “Yes.  Yes.  That’s precisely it.”

PRI Investigator:  “So why do you think that it’s ‘so-called’ Catholic?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “Because most of its staff – I’m not sure why, and I don’t want to exaggerate, but maybe 70% of its staff, or even more – is not Catholic; they’re not Catholic.”

PRI Investigator:  “Here in CRS’ [Toamasina/Tamatave] office [also]?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “That’s right.”

PRI Investigator: “A Lutheran program manager at CRS-Madagascar headquarters told me that 85% of CRS’ staff was non-Catholic.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “You see?  I guess I wasn’t exaggerating.  So, in spite of their good will – and they are of good will – they just don’t understand… And, you know, I had been here in Toamasina/Tamatave for already more than three years, and, maybe this was partly my fault, but, I didn’t even know where the CRS office in town was!  At a meeting at about that time in [the town of] Moramanga [Moramanga is a town half-way between Toamasina/Tamatave and the capital] which was held precisely to talk about the coordination [between CRS and the local Church/the bishops], I mentioned that fact to CRS:  that I had never set foot in the CRS office. So, when I got back to Toamasina/Tamatave I did go over to their office and, to my great surprise – have you seen it? – it’s a very big office and organization!  It was the first time that I had even seen it!  That proves that…well, maybe it’s ‘Catholic’…but [laughing], [anyway, it doesn’t really work with the Church].  In spite of their good will…they just don’t understand.  They just don’t understand.  That’s the reality. … But we’re trying to improve that, even at the national level.  We’ve been trying to improve that for a very long time.  But, you know [laughing], that depends on the person.”

Another example:  Just this year CRS held a very big meeting here in town – a ‘capacity-building’ meeting or something, at a hotel here – and I heard about it only accidentally, when I was up in the [town] of Diego, and somebody told me about the meeting to be held [in my own town].  I was embarrassed; I didn’t know anything about it.  Well, you know, the normal, obvious thing would have been for CRS to have contacted me right away about it.  You understand what I mean?”

The investigator then prompts the archbishop on his opinion of Catholic Relief Services and its relation with the United States government.

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Well, yes; I do understand that about CRS’ commitments to the U.S. Government…but, the question that remains is:  Why are there so few Catholics on CRS’ staff…that I don’t understand so well.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana continues for some for some length about CRS’ lack of Catholic identity, its identity as a humanitarian rather than a Catholic charitable organization, the fact that it doesn’t work with the local Church or the bishops.

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “In fact, that problem has been of such great concern to us that we [the bishops of Madagascar] took advantage of the visit to Madagascar of the U.S. bishop responsible for CRS to have a meeting with him.  We wanted at all costs to meet with him; to tell him everything that we had to say.  He was here, in Diego, in connection with World Youth Day.  So we had the meeting there, in Diego.  All the [Malagasy] bishops were there, with that [American] bishop.  I don’t remember his name.”

PRI Investigator: “When was that?  A matter of years ago?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “No!  It wasn’t even three months ago.  That’s interesting, isn’t it? If not all, most of the Madagascar bishops were there.  So we asked him a lot of questions…”

PRI Investigator: “And what was his general answer?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Well, it was sort of like the explanation that you’ve been giving me. But, he said, nevertheless, that CRS is indeed a Catholic agency, so maybe that there was more that it could do….”

PRI Investigator: “Do you think it’s a good idea for a Catholic aid agency to be using government money for its activities?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Well, for lack of a better alternative…maybe…because that does permit you to get money…but what is sure is that they [CRS] are just not free; they are obliged to act according to the manner [of the USG].  And, you know, that’s a problem for the Italian episcopal conference also:  Most of their money comes from the Italian Government and the “directives” of that government have to be followed. [Re CRS]:  And you know:  nobody here knows them; Catholics in Madagascar don’t know this organization that has “Catholic” in its name.  As I said, I myself didn’t [and don’t really] know anything about them.  I was surprised [to see their big organization here]!  There are no relationships, contacts [that you’d expect from a Catholic organization].  It [CRS] is completely independent.  But they do some good things.”

PRI Investigator: “Yes, critics of CRS in America do not deny that they do some good things…but many organizations do good things:  CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), which you know, does good things.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “‘Yes, that’s right:  What’s the difference between CARE and CRS? Well, now [after the Kicanas visit], the climate has gotten a little better here, but there are some bishops here who still react with:  “Remove the name ‘Catholic’!’ from Catholic Relief Services- Why is there a ‘Catholic’ in the name?!”’

PRI Investigator: “CRS has recently been criticized in certain American Catholic press organs for having “given some grants” to CARE, an organization known for supporting abortion and artificial contraception.  Normally, a Catholic organization is not supposed to be cooperating with such an organization.  Have you heard about that problem here?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Yes; and even in my own diocese!  Without my knowledge, they have a project here with CRS – I don’t know the name, I don’t know about now – but they were working on an artificial contraception project here.”

PRI Investigator: “Who?  You mean CARE?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “No, no.  CRS!  CRS.”

PRI Investigator: “What was CRS doing?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “A campaign – I don’t know exactly the nature of it:  capacity-building, training people…”

PRI Investigator: “In family planning?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “’Yes.  And, then, the Catholic people around here heard about it and said:  “What’s that all about?  That’s supposed to be ‘Catholic’??” [Laughing]  So, there you have it:  They [CRS] were following the instructions of [USAID].”’

PRI Investigator: “So, I don’t know if I’ve understood you.  You’re saying CRS did a campaign…”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “…yes, a campaign for family planning…in which they spoke about artificial contraception.”

PRI Investigator: “Without your knowledge?”

Archbishop Désiré: “That’s right.  Later a Catholic lady who works here apologized to me.  She said that, yes, it was a mistake.”

PRI Investigator: “And has CRS said that they won’t be doing that kind of thing again in the future?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Well, really, it’s the personnel! The staff!  The managers and employees are not Catholic, and so they’re just not very sensitive to that kind of thing.  … And, of course, officially, CRS tells me that they are going to follow the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

PRI Investigator: “…But is the real problem with that non-Catholic staff?  CRS has signed an agreement with USAID to participate, knowingly, in a health-and-family-planning program, called SantéNet2.  Now, CRS says, when they take the USAID money, that it is not itself going to “do family planning.”  But it’s a program that has as one of its main goals the promotion of the use of artificial contraception!  How in the world can CRS avoid participating in the promotion of contraception under such a program?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “That’s right!  Exactly. That’s right.”

PRI Investigator: …“the so-called ‘health technicians’ of CRS are working to assist the ‘community health workers’ who have as one of their primary tasks the promotion of contraception and distribution of contraceptives:  It must be impossible in such a framework for CRS to avoid promoting contraception!”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “That’s right:  That’s the reality.  It’s because of that [chuckling] that they [CRS] can’t tell [me] the truth.”

PRI Investigator:   “What do you think about the propriety – or not – of CRS giving grants in Madagascar to an organization like the safe-abortion-and-contraception-promoting CARE.

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “Probably not a good idea, but mainly, I am puzzled. CRS and CARE are both funded by USAID here in Madagascar.  Why would CRS need to be giving CARE any grants?”

PRI Investigator:  “You have a Caritas office here, no?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “Yes.”

PRI Investigator:  “And does your Caritas work on certain programs with CRS?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana:  “Well, yes, on certain programs, but Caritas is purely a diocesan organization.  When there is a cyclone or something we launch an appeal [for aid], and then, if there’s food available through CRS, then Caritas ‘works with’ CRS in that sense.  But then, there’s something peculiar to this diocese:  an organization – ODDIT (Unit for the Development of the Diocese of Toamasina/Tamatave) [Laughing].  It’s special to Toamasina/Tamatave:  It already existed [when I arrived as bishop here].  It collaborates very closely with CRS:  Actually, it’s an organization of CRS; sort of a CRS organization.  And yet, it calls itself an organization ‘of the Diocese of Toamasina/Tamatave.’  [Laughing]  It’s really hard to understand [how it can do that].  But it was here when I got here.”

PRI Investigator: “Yes, I was going to ask you, because at the CRS office in Antananarivo they called ODDIT, as its name implies, an organization of your diocese; but you’re saying that that’s not the case?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “In reality, ODDIT is the same as/has the value of’ CRS.  What makes it different from CRS is that its director is really Catholic…but, nevertheless, at times, she works in the same manner as CRS, that is, without the knowledge of the priests.  ODDIT works in a number of [sectorial] areas, because ODDIT [like CRS] is not just working on the Catholic level; it carries out charitable works [“oeuvres de bienfaisance”], for everybody.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “So there are plenty of strict priests here who will look at ODDIT and say:  ‘What is this thing?  There are no Catholics in it.’  And I say, well, if they’re doing good works… [laughing] but for them to call themselves an ‘organ of development of the Diocese of Toamasina/Tamatave’…well, that’s really too much [laughing].”

PRI Investigator: “Yes, because [aside from not being a formal organization of the diocese], if I’ve understood correctly, their goal is not to develop the Diocese of Toamasina/Tamatave…”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “That’s right:  it’s to develop everybody.”

PRI Investigator: “And that can be a good thing but it’s not the same thing as developing the diocese.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Yes, yes.  Exactly.  You’ve said it well. This is a little off of our subject, but, have you heard of the Swiss organization ‘Carême Suisse’?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “It’s an organization financed by the Catholics of Switzerland.  But – I don’t know why – but it [Carême Suisse, a ‘Catholic’ organization] is not even managed by Catholics but by atheists [laughing].  It’s like what we’ve been talking about here. And the result is that their way of doing things disturbs the very organization of the Catholic Church.  There are ‘Catholic’ organizations that have a way of doing things that does not correspond to the way of doing things of the Catholic Church.  And that causes a great disorder.”

PRI Investigator: “Does Carême Suisse have the approval of the bishops of Switzerland?”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Oh, yes.  But its director here is not a Catholic.  Yes, that’s what the [whole] problem is. Yes; it’s precisely that mentality – of bishops in Europe – that it’s necessary to change.  At times I wonder if most of them [i.e., bishops in Europe and North America] are not ashamed of being Catholic, ashamed of wanting to help Catholics.  The problem, I think, comes from the Church itself.  They say we’re in a ‘new era’ an era of ‘openness’ [to other sects, and religions, and views.  And so it’s appropriate for “Catholic” organizations to be run by non-Catholics.  On the other hand, you won’t see that on their side.]   It’s as if a Catholic parish were to be run by a Protestant pastor!  [Laughing]  I’m exaggerating, of course, but that’s really what it’s like at CRS.  They’re people of good will [at CRS] but…”

PRI Investigator: “I believe you’re correct that it is a problem ‘of the Church,’ especially the Church in the West.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “Exactly, exactly!”

PRI Investigator: “I don’t myself detect that that’s the mentality of bishops in Africa.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “No. No.”

PRI Investigator: “And there’s really this problem in the West, I think, as you say, of “being ashamed of being Catholic.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “That’s right. And the current CRS-Madagascar country representative?  [Chuckling] It’s rare, now, but is she a Catholic?”

PRI Investigator: “Yes, I think she is.”

Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana: “OK.  So now it might be a Catholic who’s in the director position, but before… [Laughing]...”

See the Population Research Institute’s full 119-page report from their month-long investigation in Madagascar.

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