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Editor’s note: The Lepanto Institute’s Michael Hichborn released a report in January alleging that Catholic Relief Services helped develop and implement a sex ed program in Rwanda that promoted masturbation, contraceptives, and abortifacients, while recommending Planned Parenthood as a resource. CRS responded Friday, claiming the allegations are “unfounded.” In the following piece, Hichborn responds to their claims.

February 10, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Last Friday afternoon, Catholic Relief Services posted a response to our report outlining how USAID claims that CRS was responsible for implementing and testing a graphic sex education program called My Changing Body.  We’re afraid that with this statement CRS only raises more questions about what really happened, given their categorical denial of the charges, together with an explanation that is radically incomplete given the range of problems. Also considering the time of its release and the disconnect between the charges made and CRS’ explanation, it seems clear that CRS hopes that no one is paying close attention, especially the bishops of the United States.

We will briefly address each element of their defense.

1) “CRS did not collaborate with Planned Parenthood.” This is an odd claim, since no one said they did. But the My Changing Body program did explicitly say that the information provided was “based on” the resources of Planned Parenthood and similar organizations that promote abortion and contraception, and it refers its young target audience to consult several web sites run by Planned Parenthood for more information.

2) “CRS did not promote or ‘normalize’ masturbation for teenagers.” USAID and Georgetown disagree. According to Georgetown University’s Institute of Reproductive Health, CRS was an “implementing partner” of the second edition of My Changing Body, and according to USAID, CRS “revised and tested” and “implemented” the program that was published online. This is not merely a claim from the Lepanto Institute, this comes from Georgetown’s IRH and USAID. In the published My Changing Body program are several positive references to masturbation as referenced in the report, but most problematic for CRS’ explanation is USAID’s report showing that CRS, with Caritas, “directly coordinated” the recruitment of “very young adolescents and parents… outside of church settings.” (Page 12) CRS “identified and invited” 135 children to participate in an “experimental group” and control group for a study that concluded that “[My Changing Body] had mixed success in promoting acceptance of masturbation as healthy sexual expression during adolescence.” (page 16) See the full Lepanto Institute and USAID reports for just how much these attitudes changed, but CRS’ real complaint may be with their partners and not with the Lepanto Institute.

It should be noted that the USAID document also supplied the focus group questionnaires given to the students and parents who participated in the My Changing Body test and evaluation.  Pages 43 and 41 provide questions regarding masturbation. Given the metrics on page 16 of the document, indicating that the masturbation questions were answered, it is evident that the masturbation component was included in the program implemented by CRS.

3) “CRS did not promote or encourage the use of condoms or other forms of birth control.” Again, the published program that Georgetown and USAID say that CRS implemented is full of evidence to the contrary.

4) “CRS did not ‘normalize” homosexuality.’ But according to USAID documents and the text of the My Changing Body program, the program that CRS “implemented and revised” included sections like the following (emphasis added):

Heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth can all experience same-gender sexual attraction and/or activity around puberty. Such behavior, including sexual play with same-gender peers, crushes on same-gender adults, or sexual fantasies about same-gender people are normal for preteens and young teens and are not necessarily related to sexual orientation. Negative social messages and homophobia in the wider culture can mean that young adolescents who are experiencing sexual attraction to and romantic feelings for someone of their own gender need support so they can clarify their feelings and accept their sexuality.

Key to CRS’ defense is an endorsement from an unnamed bishop from the Diocese of Butare:

“We confirm that in 2009 and 2010, our parish priests and diocesan facilitators worked in close collaboration with CRS and Georgetown to adapt My Changing Body materials and ensure that all activities were consistent with Catholic teaching and appropriate to the Rwandan context.”

So in this particular case, CRS and Georgetown University worked with the bishop to adapt the program to “ensure that all activities were consistent with Catholic teaching.” We do not doubt that this bishop insisted that the program be adapted to fit with Catholic teaching, but as USAID’s documents show, the program was implemented elsewhere, including in non-Church settings at times, and in other dioceses. If it was adapted in a specifically Catholic way for the Diocese of Butare, then why is this version not published, if for no other reason than to lessen the scandal of having CRS’ authority claimed by USAID and IRH in the promotion of a truly destructive program for children? All of the evidence of record very specifically states that CRS was responsible for implementing and testing the second edition of My Changing Body. There was no indication that it was adapted, altered, or otherwise changed for any purpose. In fact, the USAID document, which outlined precisely what CRS’ role was in the implementation and testing of My Changing Body, provided test results from CRS’ involvement in this work, including the normalization of masturbation. Furthermore, there are only four language versions of My Changing Body, second edition provided on the Institute for Reproductive Health’s website: English, French, Spanish, and Kinyarwanda, which is the official language of Rwanda. The version in Kinyarwanda is exactly the same program, with the references to diaphragms, IUDs, Depo-Provera, and Planned Parenthood all included. Not only has CRS not provided any documentation to indicate that what CRS tested and implemented was a version of My Changing Body that was in line with Catholic teaching, but the public record strongly suggests otherwise.

The evidence from our original report suggests that CRS’ response is misleading, at best, leaving a string of unanswered questions:

  • Did the Bishop from the Diocese of Butare, where the project was implemented, speak with first-hand knowledge or was he responding based upon information he was provided by others?

  • Where is the documentation to show that CRS was testing a sterilized version of My Changing Body? Given that IRH published a version of My Changing Body in the official language of Rwanda which includes all of the immoral elements, where is the sterilized version CRS used? What evidence can CRS supply that the version of My Changing Body written in the official language of Rwanda is not the version CRS tested?

  • How does CRS account for the metrics supplied in the USAID document, which indicate that the normalization of masturbation was indeed included in the My Changing Body program CRS implemented in Rwanda?

  • How can CRS explain that it tested My Changing Body with an experimental and control group if what it tested was not what it was asked to test, and whose results would be applied to the original program?

  • What possible excuse can a Catholic organization have for agreeing to test a program (even a sterilized version) that included the promotion of abortifacient contraception and masturbation, knowing that the results would be used to promote the program as written, not as amended?

A comparison of the evidence (gathered from official documents from USAID and Georgetown’s IRH) and CRS’ denial of the charges simply leads to more confusion. When an organization defends itself from claims that haven’t been made, and uses particular claims as a blanket defense while ignoring a great deal of evidence, it strains on the good will and trust of the attentive reader.

Putting a further strain on good will and clarity is the implication that by shedding light on the reports of CRS’ work from USAID and IRH that the Lepanto Institute is trying to “undermine” CRS’ legitimate efforts. This is insulting, and an unnecessary attack on motive. Our intent is to bring light to these matters so that the bishops and faithful Catholics can have the information and decide how to proceed. It is painful for all who love the Church and who support her necessary charitable mission to see that this work can at times become corrupted by being funded by organizations who spend billions every year opposing the Church and promoting truly destructive ends. It would be dishonest to claim that CRS does no good work, it is clear that it does some very good work. It is just as clear, however, that by accepting hundreds of millions of dollars every year from government sources like USAID and certain other NGOs, that CRS is routinely required to participate in acts that it hopes the bishops cannot clearly investigate. After several denied requests to meet on this and other matters, it is regrettable that this matter has been made public, but this was not our first choice. We remain open to meeting with CRS leadership and the bishops who oversee CRS for the Catholics in the United States.

Find a full listing of LifeSiteNews' coverage of the Ontario government's explicit sex-ed program here.