Investigation Yields Disturbing Findings on Catholic Relief Services domain

An exhaustive investigation by two Catholic organizations into Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in three African countries has revealed pervasive contraception promotion and abortion referrals.

Joint research by The Lepanto Institute and the Population Research Institute (PRI) into CRS projects focused on Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho.  The investigation was prompted by learning that CRS had led the implementation of a PEPFAR program called “Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored, and Safe women” (DREAMS) in several African countries, and that in this context was promoting condoms and contraception as well as implementing health referral networks that included abortion and contraception promoters and providers.

Field investigators in the three countries obtained thousands of pages of documents, recorded conversations, and photographs that reveal that CRS has, “referred girls as young as 10 to abortion and contraception providers, been the “prime implementer” of projects that, through a network of partners, is designed to spread and promote contraception and condoms, and has even corrupting the good morals of young girls with its own materials.”

A detailed 120 page report by Lepanto and PRI was released at a press conference on March 6th. The troubling findings, “led the organizations to conclude that CRS is morally complicit in the promotion and spread of condoms and contraception through federally-funded and Catholic laity funded projects,” the joint press release states..

Recognizing the gravity of the report, the organizations point out that CRS has previously been criticized for going against Church teaching while maintaining the Catholic title. Over the past decade, Lepanto and PRI, both separately and together, have repeatedly raised concerns about CRS’s involvement in projects that promote pornographic sex education, condoms and contraceptives.

CRS is the recipient of $1 billion in U.S. government funding, as well as Catholic laity donations of about a third of that from an annual parish collection.  The annual USCCB collection for CRS takes place in all U.S. parishes the weekend of March 10th.

The report states that Archbishop Gerard Lerotholi of Lesotho, “echoed the concern of many African bishops we have spoken to over the years when he told our investigators that he couldn’t “vouch for CRS” because CRS neither informs him about its activities in his archdiocese nor takes the views of the local Church into account.”

“Based on our field research in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Cameroon, we can see why CRS would want to shield its activities from scrutiny by the local Church.  Its partnerships with the USAID/PEPFAR projects we investigated virtually requires CRS to make grave moral compromises, not to say completely abandon its Catholic identity, in favor of a pose as a secular NGO.”

Among other disturbing findings, the report found evidence that CRS:

  • Implemented a sex education program, with its own logo on the front cover, that promoted masturbation as a form of “safer sex.”
  • Provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to an organization taking girls for abortions and lobbying for pro-abortion laws. This organization’s logo is a heavily pregnant woman with an “X” through the location of the preborn baby.  CRS’s contributions to this organization between 2017 and 2021 may have violated the Mexico City Policy and Siljander amendment then in force.
  • Led the implementation of government programs specifically designed for the spread of contraception.
  • Knowingly introduced girls to contraception-providing organizations so they could receive sexual and reproductive health ‘services’ as integral aspects of these projects.
  • Permitted at least one organization to promote and distribute condoms in schools under their charge.

“CRS has denied its involvement in the promotion of contraception and condoms for well over a decade, but this report proves otherwise,” said Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute.  “In every CRS project area our team visited, it was clear that CRS was far more interested in working with other NGOs to implement federally-funded contraception-spreading programs than with the local Church.”

“This must end,” says Steven Mosher, President of PRI. “CRS should first seek the permission of each and every local bishop in each and every diocese that it intends to operate in, fully disclosing every aspect of the project and promising full cooperation with the diocese. Bishops are, after all, tasked with protecting and promoting the spiritual welfare of their flock, and would and should be the first and best judge of whether a given project would help or harm souls.”

In the conclusion of the report, Lepanto and PRI call upon the bishops to force CRS to follow Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, On the Service of Charity, which mandates that bishops responsible for any given charitable organization deny the reception of funds from organizations “that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching.” The Pope’s document also requires bishops to ensure that “charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching.”

The investigative report refers to groups within Africa that CRS has partnered with.  “USAID and PEPFAR – which account for a majority of CRS’ annual budget – make the spread of contraception and condoms a top priority, and the DREAMS project that CRS helped establish made the increased use of contraception a primary goal,” said Hichborn.  “CRS’ addiction to federal funding has completely corrupted its moral foundation, its credibility, and its Catholic identity.”

“In our view,” said Mosher, “the bishops who serve on CRS’ Board of Directors have both a moral and a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that CRS withdraws from such programs.”

The entire report can be read here.