For the past couple of years, Catholic Relief Services has been at the center of a scandalous controversy regarding the funding of organizations promoting abortion and birth control. In some instances, there have even been claims that CRS was itself involved directly in the distribution of abortifacients and contraception. Through it all, CRS has denied any direct involvement in either the funding or distribution of such things. Though it has, on occasion, conceded that some of its own documentation wrongly promoted the use of condoms, CRS consistently and vehemently denies that it has ever done anything wrong. There’s an old saying: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The problem is that smoke has a way of concealing the flames. But if we look carefully, we should be able to cut through it all, get right to the source, and see just what kind of fire this is.
Plenty has been written about CRS’ funding of organizations like CARE and Population Services International, and the question about the fungibility of the money from CRS to these organizations is still lingering. But what I would like to focus on is the question of CRS’ direct funding and participation in the promotion of birth control.
After LifeSiteNews reported CRS’ $5.3 million grant to CARE International, one of the defenses offered by CRS was that “none of the funding from CRS was fungible.”
However, this defense could not be offered when it came to CRS’ dues-paying relationships with other abortion and birth control spreading organizations. When reports came out that CRS is a dues-paying member and on the board of directors of MEDiCAM and CORE Group, CRS issued (in part) these two respective responses:
(Regarding MEDiCAM) MEDiCAM, similar to some networks and professional associations to which CRS belongs, includes organization members and program areas which do not align with all tenets of Catholic teaching. CRS staff who participate in these associations acknowledge our differences, air our disagreements on these issues, and contribute our Catholic voice to the conversation. As a member of such associations, we are able to represent the Catholic positions on health care as well as highlight our work and demonstrate the efficacy of such approaches.
(Regarding CORE Group) Some networks to which CRS belongs include members which do not uphold all tenets of Catholic teaching. We acknowledge our differences, air our disagreements on these issues, and contribute our Catholic voice to the conversation. As an active and influential member of the CORE Group, we are able to represent the Catholic positions on health for mothers and their infants.
It is important to note that MEDiCAM has made the spread of abortion (including the individual training of abortion providers) a primary focus of its strategy sessions since at least 2007, and CORE Group spent nearly 50 percent of its total budget toward “family planning” in 2011. The point is, the dues that CRS pays to MEDiCAM and CORE Group are indeed fungible, meaning that any money CRS is giving to these organizations is applied also to the spread of abortion and birth control. CRS does not deny this, but instead attempts to justify the dues-money and the relationship. So, as it stands here, CRS’ defense on the grounds of fungibility does not work.
Last year, while CRS was defending the grant it gave to CARE, it made it very clear that it would never give money to an organization like Planned Parenthood because “there’s a threshold in terms of what the focus of an agency is, and the preponderance of their work.” However, in July of this year, CRS was caught giving $2.7 million to a population control organization that uses its work in distributing anti-malaria drugs and mosquito nets (the area for which CRS says it gave funds to PSI) as a means of spreading its population control programs. In fact, PSI even stated in its own material that “reproductive, maternal and child health, and malaria are all deeply intertwined, affecting poor and vulnerable populations in rural areas together. Success (or failure) in one area, such as malaria, can free up resources to focus on other areas, or drag down progress.”
In every region where PSI is working, it is also spreading abortion, birth control, or both. There is simply no area where its staff is working where they are NOT doing this. As such, it can and must be said that the focus of PSI as an agency, and the preponderance of its work, is population control through the spread of birth control and abortion. And yet, even as CRS made abundantly clear in defense of its grant to CARE that it would never fund an organization like Planned Parenthood, it was in the process of facilitating millions of dollars to an organization an awful lot like Planned Parenthood.
Most recently, Population Research Institute published a couple of reports accusing CRS of being directly involved in the distribution of abortifacient contraception. According to CRS, “CRS programming does not include the promotion or distribution of artificial family planning or distribution of abortifacients in any country in which we work.” Simply put, both claims cannot be true. Either PRI is incorrect, or CRS is incorrect. So, for the answer, we’ll turn to CRS’ programs and documentation.
In 2008, CRS conducted an evaluation of its project called “Preventing AIDS in Northeast India” (PANI). This evaluation of CRS’ own project was conducted and written by two CRS employees from the headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland—Shannon Senefeld, CRS’ Global Director of Health and HIV, and Jennifer Overton, CRS’ technical advisor for HIV programs. In the evaluation, Senefeld and Overton indicate that one of the “correct ways to protect . . . from HIV” is to use condoms. They also lament that “only” 59 percent and 61.1 percent of surveyed individuals “reported using a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse,” and even complained on pages 62 and 63 that
there was almost no reference to full and accurate information about condoms; any references to condoms were made only to explain how the community used to condemn condom use. According to project participants who were interviewed for the evaluation, there is no discussion about condoms at all, even as a prevention method for HIV. This was particularly true in Nagaland where the society appears to be more conservative. It should be noted as well that local CRS staff are not fully aware of CRS’ policy on providing full and accurate information about condoms for prevention of sexually transmitted HIV. (emphasis original)
Page 71 of the PANI evaluation recommends: “There is need for additional training for these initial trainers to ensure correct information trickles down to all the program participants. This includes educating CRS staff and partners on CRS’ position on condoms.”
According to a February 2008 article by the Catholic News Service—the official news agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—CRS “is requiring its foreign partners to give ‘complete and accurate’ information on condoms in all HIV/AIDS programs.” So, it would seem that the PANI evaluation, in complaining that the project does not discuss condom use, is simply following the directives outlined by CRS itself.
The PANI evaluation isn’t the only place CRS was found to be promoting condom use in its own documentation. In CRS’ sex education program for kids aged 8-12, called Window of Hope, CRS tells kids: “Sex with a condom is not always safe, but correct and consistent use of a condom helps to reduce the risk of getting HIV with an infected person.” In the same document is a script for a puppet show about HIV, conducted by a puppet that represents HIV. On page 174, the puppet says, “Some people use a condom. A condom is a rubber tube that is put on a man’s penis before having sex. If a condom is used correctly, it keeps the fluids from the penis and vagina from mixing and this way keeps ME out of THEIR bodies. Remember that condoms are not always safe, as they may break during sexual intercourse.”
Another of CRS’ programs called “We Stop AIDS,” says: “A condom is a rubberized thin sheath that goes over the penis of a man, forming a barrier between him and his sexual partner. The virus, which is in the semen and female sexual fluids, cannot pass through this sheath. Condoms are 80-90 percent effective when used consistently and correctly.”
In response to an SOP manual for a Vietnamese community center written by CRS, CRS said:
CRS does not purchase, promote, or distribute condoms, nor do we provide funding to other organizations for the purchase, promotion, or distribution of condoms. LifeSiteNews recently made us aware of a document that did not conform to this position.
We continue to review all our publications and programs to ensure there is full compliance with this position. We thank LifeSiteNews for pointing out this inconsistency, which will be corrected.
The offending aspects of the document included a scheduled agenda session that answered questions on how to properly use a condom (page 85), and tells seminar instructors (page 164), “Do not forget to provide information on local condom provision.”
Despite the fact that CRS claims that it does not promote condoms, it is clear from at least these three documents that this claim simply is not true. CRS’ own documents not only provide positive information on condom use, but CRS’ evaluation of the PANI project complains that not enough information is being given on the correct use of condoms and their effectiveness. Unless you are trying to encourage people to use condoms, there is no reason to tell them about how to use them, or about how effective they are. Because of this, CRS cannot claim that it does not promote condoms.
Whether CRS is defending its funding practices on the basis that it isn’t providing fungible money to abortion and birth control promoting organizations, or that in funding such organizations “there’s a threshold in terms of what the focus of an agency is, and the preponderance of their work,” or that it is never directly involved in the promotion of birth control, we can see in this one article that CRS fails on all counts. 1) CRS is providing fungible money to MEDiCAM and CORE Group, which directly promote abortion and birth control; 2) CRS is providing millions of dollars to an organization whose sole focus and purpose for existing is the spread of abortion and birth control for the purpose of population control; and 3) CRS’ own documents identify its participation in the promotion of condom use.
As I said in the beginning, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Considering the undeniable facts contained in this article, when an organization like PRI provides evidence that CRS is directly involved in the promotion of birth control and abortifacients, it is not unreasonable to consider that there just might be a fire behind that smoke, too.
Michael Hichborn is director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.