Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., who is a former chairman of the Catholic Relief Services Board of Directors, offers his perspective on the recent attacks against CRS in his blog, For His Friends.
Half the fun of writing blogs is to discover a title that arouses interest, gives little away, but inspires me to share some thoughts with you, my readers. I have mentioned to other bloggers that sometimes I begin with a title and work from there rather than write and then search for a title. That is the case now. Here in Florida during this season, nothing arouses interest more than “the National Hurricane Center in Miami is monitoring a tropical disturbance moving westward over the Atlantic for potential development.” We don’t rush out to buy plywood, but we become attuned to listening during weather reports to the “Invest Number ” and then to the Tropical Depression, Tropical Storm, Hurricane, etc., if and as it develops. The vast majority of our threats begin over the Sahara in northern Africa and then move across the increasingly warm waters of the mid-Atlantic. Occasionally, a system develops in the Caribbean and there is less time to prepare but tropical weather problems for us almost always move westward.
Unfortunately, a storm of a different kind developed in the United States recently and was headed toward Africa. It began with a group called the “Population Research Institute” which is an allegedly pro-life group and spread to a few other notoriously and consistently wrong entities who “thrive” on attacking the Church or its entities. While it was meant to inflict harm on a highly respected US Catholic charity, it took dead aim this time at Africa. From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect – well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has felt the buffeting torrents of accusations in the past as has Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA). This time it was Catholic Relief Services (CRS) which was to be the significant “whipping boy/girl” for these groups. For twelve years of my priestly life I have been on the Board of Catholic Relief Services and six of those I served as President and Chairman of the Board. During my engagement we were mostly spared any of these storms, but from the time Cardinal Timothy Dolan succeeded me as Chairman, these storms have developed off the East Coast of the U.S. and moved eastward toward Africa where CRS does an amazing job of supporting and sustaining human life, even with programs of pre-natal maternal/child health care, which has helped lower the infant (in and out of the womb) death rate.
These attacks never grow beyond a tropical depression but too much time and energy is spent by CRS and CCHD and CCUSA in responding to them. The latest components of this “Tropical Depression” were the allegation that in the nation of Madagascar CRS was actively promoting contraception, that the bishops of that country and elsewhere were displeased with CRS, and that you dear reader should not give to Catholic Relief Services because they do not adhere to Catholic teaching but send your money to them so they can develop this into a Tropical Storm and rid the Church of this organization. We’ve heard it all before, responded to it in the past, know its sources, and spend way too much energy in defense of the agency.
So let me take each of the current seeds of the latest storm and tell you the truth. Does CRS staff or the agency in general promote contraceptives in Madagascar or anywhere else in Africa or the globe? The storm originators never identify their sources but just throw mud up into the air. CRS policy is consistent and supportive of the Church’s teaching and we have been excluded from many U.S. government programs over the years because we will not sign on to the U.S. program of condom distribution in other countries. The storm sources have yet, yet in all these years to produce a credible witness to the contrary.
Now, how about the hierarchy of Madagascar? Do they think CRS is acting contrary to Church teaching? Are they unhappy with the presence and work of CRS in their country? Archbishop Desire Tsarahazana, President of the bishops’ conference of Madagascar expressed “strong support” for CRS and said that the agency is “acting in accord with Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion.” So who do you wish to believe, an organization that will not identify either its sources of the allegations or name its own members of its Board of Directors or the arm of the Catholic church that saves lives daily throughout the world?
Catholic Relief Services readily admits that it is not always perfect. When one has 5000 employees worldwide, is it even remotely possible that one or two of those same employees might incorrectly represent the agency’s position? Yes, it is. If one searches far enough can one find a bishop who is unhappy with CRS in their country? Yes, one can. The primary complaint I heard throughout my dozen years from bishops where we are present and serving, was, “can’t you just send us the money and let us spend it?” or “why can’t you give us money to build a headquarters building for our episcopal conference?” Patiently I would explain how we are different from the European Catholic Aid agencies because our scope is limited to disaster relief and human development through programs of microfinance, food maintenance, pre-natal medicine and HIV/AIDS interventions, etc. They also often complained about the demands of reporting required by the government of the United States if federal program monies were involved and I would quickly respond, we don’t like it either but it is the cost of doing business. When I queried would they be better off without CRS in their diocese of country they were quick, unanimous and emphatic in saying “no, stay.”
I am convinced that many so called Pro-Life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment. And, this is a big one, priests don’t like unfair attacks on things they highly value and esteem, like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
So this little storm which was headed in a way to harm CRS’s work in Africa has run into a ridge of dry air and will stall. But when the Population Research Institute or others need money from Catholics who want to believe the worst about their church, its leadership and their service agencies, then it will suck up the mud-filled moisture and try to stoke up another storm. I suspect that if he ever got this blog, Pope Francis would agree with its content. Keep on doing the good work of Christ and be an instrument of mercy to the world.