Over the past several weeks, Catholic Relief Services has investigated the allegation that we advocated or distributed contraceptives and abortafacient drugs in Madagascar. This was denied by the two Madagascar archbishops quoted in articles by Population Research Institute. Both archbishops affirmed that to their knowledge, CRS has never advocated or distributed contraceptives or abortafacient drugs in their archdioceses. They expressed praise and appreciation for the work of CRS. This allegation was especially alarming since CRS, as an organization under the authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, adheres strictly to Catholic teaching. The clear assertion from the archbishops that CRS was not engaged in activities contrary to our moral teaching was assuring.
Now the attacks on CRS have shifted to the supposedly strained relationship between CRS and the bishops and the local Church in Madagascar.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Dr. Carolyn Woo were grateful for the honest and direct feedback they received from the Bishops of Madagascar during their recent visit there. The bishops expressed confusion about why CRS does not help them with their diocesan youth programs or building a university. Such confusions are not uncommon as we work with Bishops’ Conferences. It was helpful to the bishops to have the mission and mandate of CRS, which is focused on humanitarian relief and development, clarified. The bishops were grateful to learn there is another way that they can access such support. The USCCB Solidarity Fund for Africa is the vehicle through which the Church in Madagascar can request assistance for things like church construction and formation programs. In fact, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has provided $108,000 for such initiatives to the Church in Madagascar from this fund.
It is a high priority for CRS to maintain good relationships with the bishops’ conferences in the countries where we work. When there are misunderstandings that need to be addressed, we meet and work them out. It is important to note that CRS must be invited into any country where we work by the episcopal conference, and we continue to serve there only with the conference’s approval and support.
The latest PRI article states, “But Rome has spoken, and it is time for the American bishops to take charge.”
Indeed, Rome has spoken, and it was a word of praise.
In an interview with Catholic News Service in December 2012, Msgr. Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, said that a recent apostolic letter issued by Pope Benedict XVI on the Church’s charitable institutions assumes that some staff may not be Catholic. However it expects that such staff, “should be aware of the fact that (they) are working in a Catholic organization.”
According to the article, Msgr. Dal Toso “said that the ‘theological and pastoral formation’ that the motu proprio mandates for the staff of Catholic charities should ensure knowledge not only of relevant church teachings, but also of the distinctive approach and “anthropology” that the church brings to its charitable mission. The secretary named two U.S. agencies, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, that he said offer such instruction to their non-Catholic staff members.”
The same article also describes a statement by Msgr. Dal Toso’s that, for projects and programs that conform to Catholic teaching, Pope Benedict’s apostolic letter would not prevent agencies like CRS “from taking money from national or local governments that fund, promote or permit practices condemned by the church, such as abortion or contraception” (Catholic News Service, 12/6/2012).
Regarding the relationship between the bishops of the United States and CRS, the bishops always have been in charge. CRS was founded 70 years ago by the bishops and to this day remains an agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A bishop appointed by the president of the USCCB chairs our Board of Directors, and bishops elected by all the bishops in the US to represent them make up a majority of the CRS board membership. We are the Catholic bishops’ agency, and the Catholic community in the U.S. can be proud of the work we do on their behalf to live up to the Gospel mission Pope Francis has urged all of us to embrace:
This is the Christian! This is what Jesus taught: to go meet the most needy. (Pope Francis, Aug 7, 2013).