CRS Responds to False Allegations about Kenya Program

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Population Research Institute (PRI) and Lepanto Institute released a report making allegations against Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS takes all such allegations seriously. Our Catholic identity is the heart of our mission, and we are committed to ensuring that all our programming is faithful to Church teaching.

PRI's report attacks our faithful, life-saving efforts to respond to HIV and AIDS in Africa, which have reached over 700,000 people. CRS is proud to partner with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), begun by President Bush to do this vital work. This partnership did not compromise our Catholic identity but provided an opportunity to faithfully and fully witness to our Catholic beliefs. In fact, we continue to successfully advocate for a conscience clause in PEPFAR to protect our ability to work in accord with Catholic teaching.

After a careful review of the facts, the report's allegations unravel quickly. They are misleading, exaggerated, and untrue. For example:

  • The report alleges that CRS promoted condoms as part of our work in Healthy Choices I, a PEPFAR HIV/AIDS prevention program in Kenya for children ages 10-14. This allegation is false. CRS took the original Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Choices I program and changed it to remove all aspects that violated Church teaching. We then implemented this revised version of the program. We could do this because of PEPFAR's conscience clause, which allows faith-based agencies like CRS to design publicly-funded AIDS programs that respect our religious convictions, including focusing on abstinence and fidelity. Our modified version was approved by the CDC and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • The report also alleges that CRS and the CDC changed documents to cover up CRS’ alleged involvement in distributing contraception. This is false. The CDC made an error in a report, incorrectly listing CRS as involved in a program related to contraception. We asked the CDC to correct their mistake on the report, which they did. The PRI/Lepanto claim that asking the CDC to correct their error constitutes a cover-up is simply absurd.
  • The report also alleges that CRS was involved in Healthy Choices II, a similar program to version I but aimed at children ages 14-18, which was produced by CDC and the government of Kenya. Under Support and Assistance to Indigenous Implementing Agencies (SAIDIA), CRS' implementing partners used two out of the four sections (those two which were appropriate and in accordance with Church and CRS doctrine) and did not use the other sections, as they were deemed inappropriate. Again, the conscience clause allows CRS to remove and not implement any portions of larger work to which we have a moral objection.
  • The dispensary highlighted in the PRI/Lepanto report was one of several local partners under SAIDIA. No CRS project funds were ever used to purchase or distribute condoms or artificial contraception. CRS informed its implementing partners of our identity as a Catholic agency and required that no project funds were to be used for any activities outside of Catholic teaching. Under the CRS SAIDIA project, the Kalamba dispensary ONLY dispensed HIV treatment (antiretroviral medication) and medication for treating tuberculosis. It is possible the dispensary had other funding, but their work with CRS was limited to antiretroviral and tuberculosis treatment and clearly in line with Church teaching.
  • The PMTCT Project referenced in the report was not operated under CRS. This was a separate project operated by the local organization funded by another donor. CRS was not involved in this project.
  • We are concerned that the "investigator" misrepresented himself during his "research" in Kenya. He presented himself as a student doing research for his thesis when he visited CRS’ office and shared his CV. Such misrepresentation does not appear to comply with international standards on research that normally requires full disclosure on the purpose of research to all interviewees. It is our sincere hope that international research standards were upheld during his interviews with children, as young children were not only quoted, but photographed in this report.

Over the past five years, CRS has redoubled our efforts to ensure that we uphold Catholic teaching in all our programming. We have established robust training and vetting systems with the assistance of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and other theologians and experts. We rigorously monitor and review our relationships with other organizations and our activities and programs to ensure that we are faithful to our Catholic identity. We have established a standing review committee of leading moral theologians and bishops to advise us on an ongoing basis. This consultation includes guidance on programs and partnerships. If an issue arises in any one of our programs reaching nearly 100 million people in 93 countries each year, we work to resolve it immediately.

We are saddened that critics continue to launch misleading attacks. Similar prior allegations prompted the USCCB's Administrative Committee to issue a statement affirming its full support for CRS and declaring that critics like PRI "do not speak for the Catholic Church."

We will continue to focus on our work serving the poorest of the poor in often challenging environments around the world, responding to Pope Francis' call to "go to the margins" and witness to the teachings of our faith in its fullness.