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Archbishop John Wester of Santa FeSnake River Alliance/Twitter

(LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, has issued a “cease and desist” letter to Lepanto Institute (LI) head Michael Hichborn and Population Research Institute (PRI) president Steven Mosher two weeks after they released a joint report documenting and detailing Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) promotion of abortion, contraception, and masturbation in three African countries. 

Hichborn and Mosher responded to the letter by calling on CRS to publish its purported self-review of its activities and their supposed alignment with Catholic moral teachings. 

READ: Catholic charity used federal funds to promote abortion, contraception in Africa: report  

In a letter dated March 8, Archbishop Wester, who served as a two-term member of the board of directors for CRS, declared to Hichborn and Mosher, “I can assure you that your findings on the ethical actions of CRS are in error.”  

Despite the two institutes’ documentation and supporting evidence, drawn from online sources, in-person interviews, hard copies of CRS materials obtained from their offices in Africa, and a lengthy year-long on-the-ground investigation conducted by both the Lepanto Institute and the Population Research Institute, Wester argued that CRS had received assurance from “prominent, well-respected moral theologians… that there is nothing being done by CRS that is immoral or unethical.” 

Wester also declared that he has “the highest confidence” in the CEO of Catholic Relief Services because he is “a man of the highest moral principles.” Without addressing the evidence – much of which is publicly documented and available and which appears to demonstrate CRS’ promotion of abortion, contraception, and masturbation – Wester simply called the report and supporting documentation a “deplorable” and “persistent persecution,” calling for LI and PRI to “cease and desist.”

READ: Report raises ‘serious concern’ about Catholic Relief Services’ ties to contraception, abortion 

Wester has on manyoccasions promoted heretical views on human sexuality and family life since being named the ordinary of Santa Fe by Pope Francis nearly nine years ago. In 2022, he published an article for heretical priest Father James Martin’s pro-LGBT website Outreach, claiming that homosexual relationships have “positive and virtuous qualities.”  

While Archbishop of Salt Lake City, Wester hired Jean Welch Hill to be the coordinator of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for the archdiocese. Just prior to being hired for the archdiocese, Hill ran for public office on a ticket promoting homosexuality while receiving endorsements and funding from Planned Parenthood. 

In 2018, Wester functioned as the episcopal moderator for a conference put on by the heretical Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP), which advocates for homosexuals to be admitted to the priesthood in contradiction with Church teaching, champions the ordination of married men, and presses for the ordination of women to the diaconate.  

Just a month ago, Wester heaped praise on incoming Biden climate czar and long-time Clinton hatchet man John Podesta, a self-identified Catholic who has fought to expand abortion for decades. 

In response to the archbishop’s denial of the damning evidence contained in the report, the Lepanto Institute and Population Research Institute challenged CRS to publish the review of its activities that Wester claimed had assured him of being in compliance with Catholic moral teaching.  

“CRS claims, both directly and through Abp. Wester, that it has thoroughly reviewed from the standpoint of Catholic moral theology, the projects identified in our report,” Hichborn and Mosher said. “In the spirit of full transparency, we now formally request that CRS publish such reviews. Since Abp. Wester has full confidence in these moral reviews, we ask that he join us in asking for their publication.” 

In their full statement, Hichborn and Mosher wrote, 

It is saddening, but unsurprising, to see a bishop yet again uncritically dismiss the facts regarding projects being carried out by CRS. It is clear from the context of Abp. Wester’s letter that he did not read the contents of the report, which was published two days before his letter. Nor is he basing his opinion on any kind of contemporaneous moral analysis. Despite having no familiarity with our detailed and exhaustive report, and the moral analysis that was done by our prominent and well-respected theologian, he ‘assures’ us that our ‘findings on the ethical actions of CRS are in error.’

Abp. Wester accuses us of ‘persistent persecution’ of CRS, calling our published reports on their activities ‘deplorable.’ First of all, it’s hard to imagine that the published concerns of two faithful Catholic organizations regarding a monolithic, billion-dollar-a-year institution constitutes a ‘persecution’ of any kind. For our part, we have consistently applauded the good that CRS has done, but refuse to close our eyes to CRS’s ‘deplorable’ insistence upon implementing government-funded projects that violate the spiritual well-being of vulnerable women and girls.

Abp. Wester insists that ‘prominent, well-respected moral theologians’ – whom he does not name – have reviewed the projects we mentioned in our report and concluded that ‘there is nothing being done by CRS that is immoral or unethical.’ Since CRS has not, to our knowledge, published the results of such a review, we have no way of knowing on what Abp. Wester bases his claim.

We feel compelled to ask if these unnamed theologians were made fully aware of all elements pertaining to these projects? Were they told about the CRS document in Cameroon that promoted masturbation as a form of ‘safe sex’? Were they informed that CRS’ referral network in the KIDSS project included several contraception peddlers? Did they know that one of the network members is an organization whose logo is an icon for abortion (a pregnant woman with an ‘X’ through the location of the baby) that admits to taking girls to obtain abortions and openly lobbies for the liberalization of abortion laws? Were CRS’s in-house moral theologians informed that the DREAMS project – which CRS led the implementation of in several countries – was designed specifically for the increased use of contraception? Were they told that this goal was a requirement for the project, and that all participating organizations – CRS included – were mandated to ensure that every aspect of the project was implemented, including the promotion and provision of contraception?

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no,’ then whatever moral analysis they submitted would be unreliable. If the answer to any or all of the above questions is ‘yes,’ and CRS’ in-house moral theologians nonetheless defended these CRS programs, then an independent, outside agency must be brought in to clean house as Dr. Germain Grisez recommended a decade ago.

Dr. Christen Brugger, a highly credentialed, well-known and well-respected moral theologian reviewed our report and concluded that it ‘established beyond reasonable doubt, clear examples of five expressions of grave evil-doing’ on the part of CRS.

CRS claims, both directly and through Abp. Wester, that it has thoroughly reviewed from the standpoint of Catholic moral theology, the projects identified in our report. In the spirit of full transparency, we now formally request that CRS publish such reviews. Since Abp. Wester has full confidence in these moral reviews, we ask that he join us in asking for their publication.

READ: Catholics should only support charities that do not cooperate with evil  

Hichborn and Mosher likewise called on faithful Catholics to reach out to their bishop to request a withdrawal of all support for CRS until it aligns itself fully with Catholic teaching on sexuality and the sanctity of life. 

They wrote, “The Lepanto Institute is calling on Catholics to write to their bishops, asking them to formally withdraw all support from Catholic Relief Services until CRS is forbidden from receiving federal funding, forbidden from collaborating with abortion and contraception peddlers, and a thorough independent third-party moral review of all of its projects is conducted. Click here to find the mailing address for your bishop.” 

Concurrent with the publication of the report on the immoral activities of CRS in Africa, Hichborn and Mosher also wrote to the bishop of every diocese in the U.S.  

In their letter they alerted the bishops to the grave departures from Catholic morality which they discovered in the activities directed by or participated in by CRS. They wrote:  

The report is the result of a year-long field investigation of Catholic Relief Services projects we conducted in three African countries. We were specifically looking at certain CRS projects, funded by USAID/PEPFAR, that targeted girls and young women from 10 to 24 years of age with ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health Services.’ These ‘services’ include pornographic sex education, and the promotion and provision of condoms and long-acting contraceptives (IUDs, Depo-Provera, and contraceptive implants.)

Our investigation and analysis were guided from beginning to end primarily by two papal documents: Caritas in Veritate and Pope Benedict’s 2012 motu proprio, ‘On the Service of Charity.’ The questions that we asked about the CRS projects, following Pope Benedict’s truly clear direction in the latter, were these:

  • Did these charitable projects in Africa follow Catholic principles or did they involve commitments which negatively affect the observance of those principles? (1 § 3) Here we were looking chiefly at Catholic moral theology governing human sexuality.
  • Were local diocesan Bishops in Africa allowed to exercise their legitimate authority over “the activities and management of these projects to ensure that the norms of the Church’s universal and particular law were respected.” (4 § 3) (cf. canons 1300 CIC and 1044 CCEO).
  • Were the intentions of the American faithful, who make donations and bequests in the understanding that these funds will only be used in accordance with Church teaching, being respected in these African projects? (4 § 3)
  • Did CRS take care to ensure that it selects its personnel from among persons who share, or at least respect, the Catholic identity of these works? (7 § 1).
  • Did CRS take care to ensure that the African faithful – and here we are talking about little girls – are not led into error? And a related question: Did CRS, while presenting its activities as charitable, use methods or material at odds with the Church’s moral theology? (9 § 3).
  • Finally, did CRS receive financial support from institutions, in this case USAID and PEPFAR, that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching? Related to this is the question: Did CRS receive funding for the implementation of initiatives – even in part – whose ends are not in conformity with Church teaching? (10. § 3).

The answer to this last point is, quite obviously, yes on both counts. USAID and PEPFAR pursue ends, among them ‘increasing contraceptive prevalence,’ and ‘increasing the contraceptive mix,’ that are clearly not consonant with the Church’s teaching. Furthermore, as will be illustrated in the executive summary, CRS is a lead implementing partner in the USAID/PEPFAR-funded project called DREAMS, which has the firmly stated goal of increasing the use of contraceptives among adolescent girls and young women.

The answer to all the remaining questions, however, is no. The CRS projects we investigated are at odds with the Church’s teaching and do, we believe, fail to adhere to Pope Benedict’s 2012 motu proprio, ‘On the Service of Charity.’ We believe the enclosed Executive Summary, and the much longer report that is available online, conclusively demonstrate this.

We respect the good that Catholic Relief Services does in many of its other works – those that do not involve cooperation with USAID/PEPFAR’s fertility reduction and contraceptive promoting goals. But what does it profit the Church if its charitable arm, intending to save lives, instead leads souls into error and causes them to be lost?

If you have any questions after reviewing the report, either of us would welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you in more detail. Our fervent prayer is that you will encourage CRS to, once and for all, end their involvement in such projects.

READ: US bishops must address charges of Catholic Relief Services collaborating with evil