See Part I in this series, Interview with Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana 

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. PRI president Steven 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 this interview with Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo on Dec. 3, 2012. PRI released excerpts of this interview on Aug. 1, 2013 In an Aug. 5 press release, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said Archbishop Odon expressed “strong support” for CRS, but included no direct quotes. We are publishing this transcript because we believe the Archbishop’s words deserve a full hearing.

Interview with Archbishop Odon Razanakolona
Catholic Archbishop of Antananarivo
In the Archbishop’s Office at the Diocesan Center
December 3, 2012

Mgr. Odon has been archbishop of the capital city of Antananarivo since 2006.  There is a high likelihood that, like his predecessors in that seat, he will soon be named a cardinal.  As a member and sometime head of a group of national religious leaders formed to advise on or assist in an exit from Madagascar’s current political crisis, he has taken – or had forced upon him – a relatively high-profile position in the country’s political affairs.

PRI Investigator: “…Part of my mission here is to look at the activities in the health sector of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) which are financed by the U.S. Government/USAID, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS).  I wanted to have the point of view of bishops in Madagascar who know or have worked with CRS.  As you know, I had the opportunity to speak last week with Archbishop Désiré in Toamasina/Tamatave.”


Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “As a matter of fact, we had a chance to meet with an [American] bishop responsible for CRS [ Bishop  Gerald Kicanas], and a bishop-representative of the U.S. bishops’ conference [Bishop George Murry], and with the person responsible for CRS [Carolyn Woo, CEO and president of CRS].  

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “As bishops [of Madagascar] we wanted to talk with them.  And we wanted to put the relations of the bishops of Madagascar with CRS at the level of the Church, because it [CRS] is a religious institution and it should talk to us, first, as equal to equal, as Church partners.  And, as I said, the new directress of CRS also came to Diego/Antsiranana, where we talked about it.  And we spoke rather frankly during those discussions.  We wanted to ask the [U.S.] bishops’ conference to give us a ruling on the relationship between CRS and us [the bishops of Madagascar].  We want to deal with the (American) bishops, and not with an institution that isn’t…that only has in its name a “C” [he draws in the air quotation marks around the “C”].

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “I don’t remember the names of the bishops who were at the meeting in Diego.  One couldn’t come; fell ill.  But there were two [American] bishops there:  one responsible for CRS, and one representing the U.S. conference of bishops.  And the new directress of CRS, or whatever her correct title is, was also there:  Msg. Désiré [the archbishop of Toamasina/Tamatave] spoke to her at length.”

PRI Investigator: “And has there been any follow-up to that meeting?”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Well, we’re just sort of waiting…but in any case, at the level of Africa, Caritas-Africa, has taken measures, Rome has taken measures to say that, from now on, the charitable works of Caritas must be a part of the Catholic Church, not as an ‘NGO,’ but as an integral member of the Church, and they [i.e., Caritas member organizations] must have their juridical status in the interior of the Catholic Church.  Because, above all, it’s not a question of money, but of spirit.  A Spirit which says that we start with charity; we start with a God who loves us, who has taken us into His Trinitarian love.  As a consequence, the point of departure of any charitable action is there! We start with a Trinitarian God who loves us, who has introduced us into His love, and who then sends us out to share the love that He has given us:  Voilà, there you have it.  So there is the point of departure, the starting point.  And the juridical situation of all the Caritas members must start with the bishops…

PRI Investigator: “…which bishops?”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “…of each diocese, first, to arrive at the level of the episcopal conference [of the host country].  Yes.  And the legal status [of Caritas members] must take that into account.  There you have it. For three days we were in Kinshasa, from the 19th to the 22nd of November we were there; the 23rd we left; and I got back here on the 24th.  It was a pan-African meeting; attended by the presidents of the bishops conferences in Africa, and by the bishop-presidents of the episcopal commissions responsible for charitable and social affairs at the African level.  There were about 50 bishops in attendance.  The secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis [Michel Roy] came; and the president of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Maradiaga [archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras] was there.  The president of Cor Unum, Cardinal Robert Sarah, was also there, with all his staff.  They facilitated the meeting for those three days.

So, the meeting was precisely to re-establish Caritas in its true vocation of caritas, that is, of charity.  And not to have [Caritas] [editor’s note: i.e., Caritas member organizations, such as CRS, CAFOD (Catholic Agencies for Overseas Development), Caritas-Madagascar, etc.] running after money…”

PRI Investigator asks the archbishop about CRS’ reliance on United States government funding and how the staff of CRS-Madagascar is largely non-Catholic.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “An unfortunate thing about CRS is that it ‘makes use of’ the structures of the Catholic Church, and then they will say:  ‘It’s your fault [i.e., of the local Catholic Church]; you’re not competent; it’s not us.’ And then, the money that CRS gets: a large part of it goes towards administration, while they make us work like dogs.  And then they collect two-thirds…and they give us crumbs.  They are the ones who need to explain:  Why do they receive such big salaries?  For example, they have a partnership with Caritas-Madagascar, and it’s the Caritas-Madagascar employees who do everything.  But it’s the CRS agents who are ‘ahead of’ our own agents. They use our structures.  They will arrive out there to use our [Caritas] structures.  And then they go away, and they’ll say:  ‘Oh, no; that’s the responsibility of Caritas; it’s not our responsibility.’  That’s the kind of thing that happens! So I have gotten to the point of saying:  That’s enough!  You, CRS, are the ‘leaders’: So give us the means [that we need]!  The project Taratra, for example…

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “…What do they do?  When things are not going well they say:  ‘Oh, that’s your problem!  You’ll have to do this, or that, or the other thing.’  That’s what really hurts me.  How to work with those CRS people?!  Finally, I really want to say:  ‘Let’s just stop Taratra.’  In any case, the project is practically at its end.”

The PRI Investigator comments about CRS and its funding from USAID.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “That’s right; and the Episcopal Conference of the United States should come to a decision about that.  It’s for that Episcopal Conference to say:  ‘From now on, CRS, as an official organ of humanitarian aid: we are going to take it in hand, as our agency, and those who want to work with our agency, well, here are our conditions…’.  That’s precisely what we [African bishops] have just said [in Kinshasa]:  We have to say to those who would come to help us:  ‘here is our charter; here are our rules:  If you want to be with us, then you will have to respect these rules.’ Voilà, there it is.  And that’s what the bishops of the United States should do with the American Government:  ‘Up to now USAID has helped us; that’s fine.  But now, here are the conditions that we insist upon if there is going to be any collaboration.  You [the U.S. Government] will have to respect the following rules a, b, c, and so on.’ So, if in that way the American bishops took a certain distance, a certain independence, from the American Government, then they could organize a true partnership with us.  But, you know, as soon as I speak of a ‘partnership’ with them, then everybody runs away and hides.”

PRI investigator asks if CRS has a de-facto “monopoly” on the overseas charitable/humanitarian aid of American Catholics.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “That’s right.  And to remove that monopoly, and to give a different direction to CRS, the Bishops Conference of the United States should again take control of CRS and make of it an agency of charity, rather than a humanitarian agency.”

PRI Investigator: “But CRS calls itself an ‘official humanitarian agency.’”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “…exactly…”

PRI Investigator: “But they are a member-organization of “Caritas,” which signifies charity, and not ‘humanitarian…’?”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Precisely.  That’s right.  The bishops of the United States must take control [of CRS]. There’s a structure there, which [in theory] belongs to them, but with a financing which escapes them.  They have no hold over [the organization] at all.  In my opinion, they really need to take control of/appropriate CRS.  They need to take back control of CRS from USAID, from the U.S. Government.  That would clarify things. If the U.S. bishops would say [to the U.S. Government]:  ‘If you want to work with us, then here is our charter.  Here are the conditions under which we will accept your aid.  We manage. We are the ones in charge.  You can monitor.’  That’s fine; that’s normal:  If someone is giving money it’s fine and normal if he monitors. ‘But you are not the boss; I am the boss.’ And that’s exactly what we [African bishops] said to one another there in Kinshasa:  that the bishops must take…control…NOW…of their Caritas organizations.  

The bishop has the primary responsibility for charity in his diocese.  Consequently, he must try to find the means to do charity.  He can’t leave the matter to someone outside the structure of his diocese but, in one way or another, he must use this instrument of charity to do charity. The bishop has the primary responsibility for charity in his diocese.  At the level of the national bishops conference(s), we can give each other help.  We have a thing…an episcopal commission responsible for that… but it is not an instrument for giving orders.  How do we best join forces?  Because there are some which are not well off, which don’t get very much help, while certain dioceses are better off; so how do we work together?  Collaboration is not [the same thing as] giving orders.  And we have to be clear on that point.  The commission, the “directorate” is not there to give orders but to put our forces together, so that we can do something good. You must respect our structures.  If you want to work with us, then respect our structures.  If you don’t want to…then fine, just go home; we don’t need you.”

The PRI Investigator prompts him, asking about how USAID funds not only CRS but many other NGOs working in Madagascar.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Yes; one time, for ‘visibility’ purposes, they came in here and asked me to put up this thing, this sign, with ‘USAID’ on it; to put it up behind my desk [laughing].  I threw them the hell out of my office:  Take your sign and your money out of here.  I don’t need it.  I’ve lived in my poverty; leave me in my poverty.”

PRI Investigator: “It could be hard for the American bishops to break the habit of relying on the U.S. Government.  The money is a temptation.”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Yes, it’s a temptation.  But, I don’t know why you Americans don’t do like they do in Italy or Germany.’

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Yes, I ask the Protestants here sometimes if we can’t adopt the Italian system; [so that we could designate some of our taxes to go for charitable purposes, and we could direct that portion to the religious organization of our choice].  And that’s the way that CRS could function.  USAID?  Finished!  Couldn’t you start a campaign in the United States to go in the direction of that kind of system? ”

The PRI Investigator asks the archbishop’s opinion regarding whether the American bishops should extricate themselves from their reliance on U.S. government money, from their implication in the secularized foreign aid system of the U.S. Government.

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “…If they [the American bishops] make CRS come back into the interior of the Catholic Church, then, from now on, they won’t be dependent [on the U.S. Government]…maybe they would have some need…but it won’t be those funds [of the U.S. Government] that will any longer be the point of departure for our renewal.”

The PRI investigator speaks about USAID’s heavy financing of family planning programs in Madagascar – which Archbishop Razanakolona is aware of – and about CRS’ participation in USAID’s biggest family planning program in Madagascar.  The investigator mentions ODDIT (Unit for the Development of the Diocese of Toamasina/Tamatave) , which Archbishop Désiré had himself described to me as behaving like a little CRS.  I said that I was able to confirm during my visit that ODDIT was taking funds directly from USAID to participate in a family planning program, and indirectly, from CRS, for the same program.

[Msgr. Odon shakes his head sadly]:  “Ay yay yay yay yay!” 

PRI Investigator: “I don’t think that Msgr. Désiré is really aware of what ODDIT is doing,” and ODDIT certainly doesn’t inform him about its activities; ODDIT doesn’t send him any reports or anything.”

Archbishop Odon Razanakolona: “Yes, that’s completely beyond him. He is not aware of that business… Yes, and it [CRS] is very much questioned [“contesté”] in Africa. Well, we will wait for the results of the visit made here by the two American bishops, for a report so that we will know how…but, in any case, here, now, CRS has started to reduce its budget. … It appears that it has passed from 10 million to 7 million or something like that, and there will be reductions in personnel.  Well, then, that’s good [smiling]. So thank you for providing me with some explanations.  I’m starting to be better aware of a certain number of things. The Caritas-Africa Kinshasa meeting was very beneficial for me.  …  A few bishops didn’t attend but most of them did.  If you’re able to get 50 bishops from all around Africa together, that’s something.”

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