Thursday, August 1, 2013

Madagascar Archbishop on Catholic Relief Services: "I threw them the hell out of my office"

We had followed but not yet commented on the accusations made by the Population Research Institute against Catholic Relief Services' work in Madagascar.

Over the past few days we had read the PRI report, which claimed to document specific instances of CRS employees pushing contraception and abortafacient drugs in Madagascar. Because the report was quite specific, we were waiting to see CRS's response.

On July 30, the CRS published a press release written by John Rivera with the headline:"CRS Refutes Inaccurate and Misleading Report from Population Research Institute." But that is boilerplate: the headline is not backed up in any way in the body of the release. Had they replaced "refutes" with "denies" that would have been more accurate, because nothing in the release refutes the PRI report at all. The release begins:

"Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is a pro-life organization dedicated to preserving the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception to natural death. Every aspect of our work is to help life flourish. We are resolute in our commitment to the Church and its teaching.

Population Research Institute (PRI) has alleged that CRS has used funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in Madagascar. This allegation is simply false. As a pro-life organization, CRS programming does not include the promotion or distribution of artificial family planning or distribution of abortifacients in any country in which we work."

That's fair enough although not responsive. It would be a fine preamble if the rest of the release went on to address the incidents documented by PRI. The release continues:

"We are confused by the strong allegations coming from PRI regarding CRS programs, as we simply do not engage in such work. All current CRS grants in Madagascar clearly delineate what activities CRS will implement within its programming portfolio, and artificial family planning and abortifacients are most definitely not included in any of our programming grants. At the end of every grant, a full report of our activities is submitted to the grant agency. Our reports clearly indicate that CRS did not engage in the distribution of contraceptive or abortifacients drugs or devices."

Emphasis in original. That, too, is not responsive. If it is the policy of CRS is not to distribute contraceptives or abortifacients, of course it will not appear in the report.  The question is not: did it appear in the report? the question is: did it happen? In the next paragraph, Mr. Rivera writes:

"Yet in order to remain vigilant, we are reviewing the allegations to ensure that all CRS programming is consistent with the teaching of the Church. This review is ongoing, but this is what we have determined so far regarding PRI’s allegations:

"PRI reported it interviewed a program manager for USAID-SantéNet named Jean Patrick Bourahimou, who made statements about CRS and USAID’s work. However, CRS staff in Madagascar do not know this person, and the USAID Madagascar office reported that Jean Patrick Bourahimou is not a USAID employee and therefore could not make statements on USAID’s behalf about programming related to CRS and USAID. Mr. Bourahimou worked for the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a contractor on the SanteNet2 project that PRI references."

So nowhere are Mr. Bourahimou's words "refuted" or even challenged. All that this portion of the CRS release does is say Mr. Bourahimou "is not a USAID employee and therefore could not make statements on USAID’s behalf about programming related to CRS and USAID." But that does not address the issue--it does not matter who exactly he is working for, the question is, was what he was saying in the PRI report true?

Mr. Rivera then writes:

"PRI also quotes two CRS staff, Nicolas Ragalison and Jean Ferlin Nambana, describing family planning activities. Both were short-term contractual employees who are no longer with CRS. Note that the two short-term contractual employees are native speakers of Malagasy and may have a low level of French-speaking ability. We are concerned that there may have been some misunderstandings during the interview if not conducted in their native language. We find their statements posted on the PRI website extremely odd since CRS simply does not engage in any artificial family planning activities. Still, we are looking into these reported statements very carefully and trying to reach these former employees." Emphasis added.

That they were "short-term contractual employees who are no longer with CRS" is utterly irrelevant.   Mr. Rivera then expresses concern that there may have been a language problem between the interviewer and Mr. Ragalison and Mr. Nambana. That is certainly possible. But the more important fact is that Mr. Rivera is stating that he has not spoken with the two, and that CRS is still looking into the reported statements. In other words, despite his claim to have "refuted" the PRI report, he simply does not know whether it is true or not.


Jump forward to today, and our headline "I threw them the hell out of my office," taken from a statement by Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo, Madagascar's capitol. On July 26, as the story began to unfold, CRS had issued a press release, with the title "CRS Responds to Concerns About Programs in Guinea and Madagascar." The release began:

"CRS works in many countries throughout the world to protect human life and human dignity. Within each of the countries where we work, we approach our mission of serving the poor and vulnerable very seriously. Committed to our Catholic identity, we review all organizations via a vetting process that begins with our local Bishops in-country."

But LifeSiteNews today covered PRI's latest report, which was the responses of at least two Madagascar Archbishops, plus a number of other clergy who have very serious problems with CRS's work in Madagascar. Please read the whole article. And here is the full quote from Archbishop Razanakolona, part of which we used as our headline:

"Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, expressed concern over the Catholic agency’s apparently tight relationship with the U.S. government.

'One time, for ‘visibility’ purposes, they [CRS-Madagascar representatives] came in here [to my office] and asked me to put up this thing, this sign, with ‘USAID’ on it; to put it up behind my desk,' he said. 'I threw them the hell out of my office: ‘Take your sign and your money out of here. I don’t need it. I’ve lived in my poverty; leave me in my poverty.’ ”

We've been down this road with Catholic Charities, with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and with Development and Peace (Canada's version of the CRS). Denial, stonewalling, sometimes an admission of improper oversight when confronted with overwhelming evidence, then reform. 

The entire Church should be thanking groups like Reform CCHD Now the Bellarmine Veritas Ministry, LifeSiteNewsand now PRI.

Contact info:

Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S. Uffizio, 11, 00193 Roma, Italy
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3357
phone: (011) 39-06-6988-3413
Fax: (011) 39-06-6988-3409

Find contact information for all U.S. Bishops here.


Anonymous said...

why can I not comment?1

Anonymous said...

Now it's working. Keep up the good work. God's Blessings +