Catholic Relief Services Refutes Allegations of Improper Conduct in Democratic Republic of Congo

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A blogger, known as the Lepanto Institute, has once more published a report critical of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The central accusation in the 58-page document is that CRS received and distributed contraceptives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as part of a USAID-funded mother and child health project called AXxes, which ran from 2006 to 2010.

The blogger’s evidence for this accusation is the project’s reports, which are publicly available online. They do indeed seem to show CRS as receiving contraceptives. However, this is an error that emanates from unclear wording in a report prepared by another organization that did not understand how important absolute clarity on this point is to CRS.

Project AXxes involved a number of implementing organizations, including the lead partner IMA World Heath, CRS and the Catholic Church in Congo. Organizations were responsible for different geographic areas of the country where they carried out the mother and child health programs. The contraceptives in question were delivered to the geographic area where CRS worked but it was IMA World Health – not CRS – who “provided an alternative mechanism for the training, storage and distribution of contraceptive products.”

This is a direct quote from Richard Santos, President of IMA World Health, in a letter on this matter provided to CRS on October 5, 2016. The letter goes on to say that “it is plausible that the reports are unclear to an outside person who may read a project report that has CRS responsible zones listed as CRS having provided all of the services in those areas. However, this is a simplistic view and does not represent reality. In reality, CRS was very clear with all parties that it would not engage in any activities that were contrary to Catholic teaching and that it would not promote such activities to its local Catholic partners.”

The Conference of Congolese Bishops (CENCO) supports this. In a letter provided to CRS on September 29, 2016, they state: “The CENCO stands behind the work of Catholic Relief Services, with whom we have partnered for more than 40 years. The work of CRS has always been faithful to Catholic teaching and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

CRS did provide natural family planning as part of Project AXxes with the distribution of cycle beads, as befits a Catholic organization working to improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and their young children.

A simple query to CRS would have provided clarification of the report but the blogger didn’t approach CRS with his concerns. CRS has been very clear with this blogger over the years that we welcome constructive dialogue about our work. However, these attacks are not constructive or offered as such.

CRS currently uses an elaborate ongoing review process for our programming, involving bishops on our board and top moral theologians, to ensure that we uphold Catholic teaching in all we do. If we ever do find a problem, we correct it immediately. The bishops of the U.S. have affirmed this system in a 2013 statement from the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said these groups “do not speak for the Catholic Church and we advise the Catholic faithful to exercise caution and consult the CRS website for clarification before endorsing or giving credence to the groups’ critiques.”

Unfortunately, these types of attacks distract us and others from the life-saving and life-promoting work that we do each and every day. Especially now, directing staff resources to respond to unfounded allegations means pulling resources from our lifesaving response in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people need assistance after their homes were wiped out by Hurricane Matthew.