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Parsing the USCCB’s defense of Catholic Relief Services

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August 7, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - At LifeSiteNews, we often report on scandals involving Catholic institutions. It’s not something we enjoy or take on lightly.

Whenever we have this type of story, we approach it with great trepidation, and hope that the situation can be resolved without it ever coming to light. But when we have clear evidence of wrongdoing and the organization fails to correct the situation behind-the-scenes, or even defends it (as often happens), we have no choice but to shine a light on the darkness.

When we report on problems at Catholic aid agencies, we do so not only because of our commitment to the Church’s basic moral teachings, but out of a deep commitment to the Church’s efforts to relieve suffering. If these efforts are not carried out in full conformity with Church norms, then they are destined for failure.

In the last couple weeks, LifeSiteNews has published a series of reports highlighting grave concerns at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Bishops’ billion-dollar foreign relief agency. This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops came to their defense, so we’d like to offer some thoughts in response.

First, a brief summary of what we’ve found. On July 10th, we revealed that CRS had given a $13.8 million grant to the pro-abortion group CARE. Then on July 18th, we reported that they were in the midst of giving a $2.7 million grant to Population Services International, an organization founded for the purpose of population control that openly markets abortion drugs in numerous developing countries.

After that we began a series of articles based on reports from the Population Research Institute alleging that CRS had themselves actually distributed contraceptives and abortifacients as part of a USAID project in Madagascar. PRI spent a month in the African country, conducting taped interviews with USAID and CRS employees/contractors, as well as two Archbishops and numerous clergy.

“Even in my own diocese!  Without my knowledge,...they [CRS] were working on an artificial contraception project here,” Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina told the pro-life organization in November 2012.

Unfortunately, LifeSiteNews’ reporting on CRS has been called into doubt by some in recent days after the USCCB released two statements that, on the face of them at least, appear to disprove PRI’s claims about CRS’ work in Madagascar.

After PRI published the quotes critical of CRS by Archbishop Tsarahazana and Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo, the USCCB called the archbishops and released a statement about each conversation.

On August 2nd, they issued a statement saying that Archbishop Tsarahazana “expresses strong support” of CRS. The statement appears to indicate that the Archbishop has backtracked from his allegation that CRS distributed contraceptives. It reads:

During the open and constructive conversation, Archbishop Tsarahazana stated that in the past there had been some confusion in his archdiocese that was quickly resolved, and that CRS is acting in accord with Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.

Notice that the statement never actually says that the Archbishop backtracked. Rather, we are told there was “some confusion” that was “quickly resolved.” Unfortunately, we are left to guess at what that means.

We’re told that CRS is not currently distributing contraceptives, but there’s no denial that they did so in the past. In fact, PRI has pointed out that the program in which CRS was allegedly distributing contraceptives ended on July 24th, which would certainly be consistent with the USCCB statement.

What we can be sure of, however, is that if the archbishop had actually said PRI misquoted him, CRS and the USCCB would have said it explicitly. They did not.

Sadly, the USCCB gave us no quotes from Archbishop Tsarahazana, so there is no way of knowing what he specifically said.

In their second statement, published August 5th, the USCCB and CRS indicated that Archbishop Razanakolona also “expresses strong support” for CRS, and that he “repudiated” the claim that CRS was distributing contraceptives and abortifacients.

But PRI has responded to this second release by pointing out that Archbishop Razanakolona had not told them anything of the sort, and they never said he had. The allegations about contraceptive distribution came from Archbishop Tsarahazana and clergy in his Archdiocese.

“Archbishops [Razanakolona]'s complaints about CRS, which he shared with us in a taped, on-the-record interview, lay elsewhere,” PRI wrote in a release Tuesday.

So, in the end, we are left to compare Archbishop Tsarahazana’s clear quotes, provided by PRI, with the confusing paraphrases attributed to him by the USCCB and CRS.

LifeSiteNews asked John Rivera, CRS’ communications director, if CRS had a statement from Archbishop Tsarahazana himself, but Rivera did not respond.

The Archbishop’s quotes, combined with the quotes of clergy in his diocese and aid workers on the ground, ought to raise serious alarm bells. As far as we’re concerned, until CRS offers a more forthright statement, PRI’s reports stand.

Even apart from PRI’s reports, however, Catholic Relief Services should be facing intense scrutiny over its multi-million dollar grants to CARE and PSI – the latter especially.

When LifeSiteNews raised concerns about its grant to CARE in 2012, CRS indicated they were willing to fund a pro-abortion group for moral projects, but that it depended on the “preponderance” of work the group did in violation of Catholic teaching. “We would never partner with Planned Parenthood,” said Rivera.

But once they were questioned on their grant to PSI, they fell back even further. Whether the “preponderance” of the group’s work violates Catholic teaching no longer matters, it seems, only that the specific project they are funding does not offend Catholic morality.

We have questioned CRS repeatedly about how they can defend their grant to PSI when, by their own funding principles, they would not fund Planned Parenthood. Sadly they have ignored the question every time.

Contact info:

Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193 Roma, Italy
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3357
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3413
Fax: (011) 39-06-6988-3409
E-mail: [email protected]

Find contact information for all U.S. Bishops here.

Readers may also comment on Catholic Relief Services’ Facebook page.

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