Media CenterCRS Responds to Concerns About Programs in Madagascar

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Recent media articles have alleged that CRS is using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in Madagascar. The allegation is simply wrong. All of CRS programs in that country are in areas such as water and sanitation, food aid, child vaccination, nutrition and malaria prevention.  CRS has never distributed contraceptives nor abortifacients in Madagascar through any programming.

Working with the Government of Madagascar’s Health System

Additionally, the media has alleged that CRS staff, specifically 250 community health workers, have been involved in the distribution of artificial contraceptives and abortificients. CRS does work with community health workers, volunteers who are not CRS employees, in compliance with government requirements to work through existing local health structures. We focus specifically on educating these community workers on nutrition, water and sanitation, and malaria prevention. CRS in no way participated in the training of anyone on topics of contraceptives.

CRS Staff and Partners

The articles also criticize CRS for hiring a staff member who had worked previously for the United Nations Population Fund and also for having worked with CARE on a water and sanitation project in Madagascar. The criticized national staff member in Madagascar did work for the United Nations Population Fund prior to coming to CRS and was hired because of her professional expertise. Although not all of our staff are Catholic, they do receive, as part of their orientation, instruction on Catholic teaching and its manifestation in our work. Our staff carries out the work of CRS with excellence and compassion while adhering to the tenets of Catholic teaching. We also see this as a powerful part of our Catholic witness, as we expose employees, who may have previously worked in agencies that engaged in objectionable practices, to the Catholic way of doing humanitarian work.

CRS is not in agreement with CARE’s position on family planning because we do not support any positions that would violate Church teaching on human dignity and the sanctity of human life. We take very seriously concerns about the grants, and even more so, we take very seriously our commitment to Church teaching. Any funding CRS provides to CARE, or any other international humanitarian organization, comes from an outside source such as the federal government or a foundation. It must be used for a specific project, and has strict restrictions on its use. The grant in Madagascar between CARE and CRS was specific to a water and sanitation program to improve health, security, and prosperity in 26 rural communes by increasing access to reliable and economically sustainable water and sanitation services. There were no family planning components to the program. We see our work with other organizations as a positive and powerful aspect of our witness to our Catholic faith, as we bring our Catholic outlook and values in dialogue with a variety of people and groups who otherwise would not be exposed to them. We have seen positive results from this engagement, such as Natural Family Planning being considered by other organizations, and our Abstinence and Be Faithful approach to HIV prevention gaining respect in the wider health community.

Quotes

Other criticism includes that a USAID-program manager stated that CRS was involved in distributing family planning materials. However, USAID has confirmed that the person cited in the news article does not work for USAID. The person worked on a contract for another international agency in Madagascar, but was never a USAID employee.  What he is alleged to have said it is simply not true.

More recent articles have cited CRS staff. Indeed, two staff members of a local diocesan office, who were paid by a CRS project, were quoted in one of the articles. These staff members are no longer employed in this project, as it ended earlier this year. However, CRS asked our local diocesan partner to reach out to these former staff for their reactions to the news articles. One of the former staff members is writing an official letter stating that the article is taking quotes out of context and that as far as he is aware, CRS never engaged in any programming that violates Catholic teaching in Madagascar.

The most recent allegation was an article that included quotes from Church officials in Madagascar. CRS was deeply concerned with these allegations and acted quickly to seek clarification. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Chairman of CRS,  were able to speak with Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana, the President of the Episcopal Conference of Madagascar, on Friday morning to confirm that the Archbishop was not aware of any CRS staff or projects where there was a violation of Church teaching or any distribution of artificial family planning or abortificients.

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John Rivera
August 2, 2013

John Rivera is CRS' former communications director. He was based Baltimore, Maryland.More