REPORT: Catholic Relief Services, Government Funding, and Contraception

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report:-catholic-relief-services,-government-funding,-and-contraception

For over a year, the Lepanto Institute and Population Research Institute (PRI) conducted a joint investigation into Catholic Relief Services projects in three African countries: Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.  Through a combination of primary resource materials obtained from federal documents, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and CRS project partners and sources, as well as information and materials obtained by a team of researchers in these three countries, Lepanto and PRI have concluded that CRS is morally complicit in the promotion and spread of condoms and contraception through federally-funded projects.

In a press conference on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, Lepanto and PRI announced the publication of this report, providing key details and evidences contained within it.  The press conference can be viewed here:

The fully detailed, 130-page investigative report can be read here, and the executive summary for the report is published below.

Click the image to read the full report.

The Lepanto Institute and the Population Research Institute recently completed a field investigation of Catholic Relief Service’s projects in Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho.  

We initiated the investigation out of concern 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. 

Over the course of a year, LI and PRI received from our investigators thousands of pages of documents, recorded conversations, and photographs that, taken together, reveal that CRS has, in multiple countries, 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.

This report contains three chapters, which present our findings about CRS’s activities in Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho, respectively:

In Cameroon:

  • CRS led the implementation of the KIDSS project in Cameroon, which meant it had overall responsibility for funding and implementing the project in all its aspects.
  • CRS produced material, bearing CRS’ logo, which promotes masturbation, “safe sex,” and discourages engaging in sexual activity without using a condom. 
    •  As will be explained in the report, the promotion of masturbation was adapted from a program called My Changing Body, which CRS implemented in Rwanda but publicly denied that it had done so.
  • CRS partnered with RENATA, an abortion-minded organization, referring girls to RENATA for sexual and reproductive health (SRH).  CRS’ partnership with RENATA, which included funding, appears to have violated the Mexico City Policy then in force, given that RENATA was simultaneously advocating for the legalization of abortion in Cameroon, an activity forbidden to grantees or subgrantees.
  • CRS created a health referral network that included organizations that push contraception, including RENATA, Horizons Femmes, SWAA, and others.
  • The CRS-led KIDSS project formally ended in 2023.  But it essentially continued under a new name, CoSMo, and with a new lead organization, the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC).  CoSMo relies upon the same referral network with RENATA, Horizons Femmes, SWAA, etc., and CRS continues to help guide the project.
  • CRS’ project manager for the KIDSS project, who continues to be employed as Zonal Manager for CoSMo, is an abortion and contraception proponent.
  • Catholic hospitals in Cameroon have been enlisted as partners in the CoSMo project and provide pornographic sex-education materials promoting contraception and condoms.  The materials themselves are supplied by CARE and Georgetown University, organizations that CRS often partners with.

In Zimbabwe:

  • CRS led the implementation of the DREAMS project in Zimbabwe, which ran from 2018-2022, through a project called Pathways. 
  • One of the prime goals of DREAMS is “Increasing Contraceptive Method Mix”, that is, encouraging the use of both condoms and long-acting contraceptives (IUDs, contraceptive implants, Depo-Provera), among adolescents and young girls in “vulnerable populations”.
  • CRS’ implementing partners – organizations to which girls enrolled into DREAMS by CRS would be sent – were responsible for fulfilling the project requirements to promote and provide condoms and contraceptives. 
    • CRS’ own Chief of Party in Zimbabwe confirmed that these referrals were done with CRS’ direct knowledge and consent.  A video conference on Pathways held by CRS also confirms this.
    • CRS’ Pathways partners Caritas Zimbabwe, JP Kapnek, Musasa, Salvation Army, and Africaid all promote contraception.  Africaid even stated that CRS gave them access to 6th grade children where they handed out condoms, stating that CRS knew about the condoms and did not object.
    • CRS’ Pathways partner Childline Zimbabwe, in addition to promoting and providing contraception, also refers girls for abortion.
    • CRS’s Pathways project directly collaborated with public outreach campaigns, such as Stop the Bus, that were explicitly designed to spread condoms.

In Lesotho:

  • CRS’ 4Children project included pornographic sex education and referred girls to contraception peddlers through the overarching DREAMS project.
  • The Go Girls! educational manual in use, a copy of which was provided to our local investigators, was identical to one we had earlier discovered online.  It includes sexually explicit, not to say pornographic, content.
  • Caritas and other DREAMS partners confirmed our concerns that girls were being sent to contraception peddlers such as Population Services International (PSI) during “community service days” as an integral part of the project.
  • Through KB’s “Community Service Days,” during which condoms were openly demonstrated and distributed, CRS was responsible for coordinating “linkages to services” among the various DREAMS partners.
  • CRS remains actively involved as an “implementing partner” in the successor project to  DREAMS, which is called  Karabo ea Bophelo (KB).  One of KB’s primary goals, which we repeatedly confirmed in interviews and primary source materials, was to “increase contraceptive prevalence” among Lesotho youth.  In other words, it is an anti-natal population control program.
  • In the course of meetings at KB headquarters that included CRS representatives, our investigator saw large boxes of condoms being unloaded from a van by KB staff, and a box of condoms in the bathroom, graphically illustrating the projects’ purpose. 
  • A contraception-promoting curriculum called Stepping Stones, currently in use by KB in Lesotho, has previously been used by CRS in other countries.

Conclusions and Recommendations

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.

This is born out in CRS’ purchase and use of inherently immoral sex and HIV educational materials.  Regardless of whether CRS “adapts” certain parts of such materials for its own use or not, the idea that CRS can “carve out” a kind of “safe space” within a gravely immoral curriculum–itself the product of radically pro-abortion agencies devoted to spreading the contraceptive mentality and reducing the birth rate–is flawed and should be abandoned.

The gravity of our current findings is further underlined because they confirm that CRS is continuing a long pattern of questionable behavior.  Over the past decade the Lepanto Institute and the Population Research Institute, both separately and together, have repeatedly raised concerns about Catholic Relief Services’ involvement in projects that promote pornographic sex education, condoms and contraceptives.

In 2013, Population Research Institute (PRI) published the results of a month-long investigation into CRS projects in Madagascar.  PRI’s report found “that CRS is using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in concert with some of the world’s biggest population control/family planning organizations.”  

In 2015, the Lepanto Institute (LI) and PRI published the results of a year-long collaborative investigation into a CRS-led project in Kenya called SAIDIA.  Through official documents obtained online from USAID, PEPFAR, and CRS, along with information collected from field research in Kenya, we concluded that CRS had implemented a contraception-promoting program called Healthy Choices 2 and a condom-promoting program called SHUGA in that country.  

Over the years, other notable Catholic scholars have joined in the criticism.  Reacting to reports of CRS promoting condom use, noted theologian Germain Grisez in 2011 called for a formal investigation of CRS.  Grisez asked,  “Why does Catholic Relief Services forbid putting its logo on the ‘educational’ materials it provides about HIV and condoms?”  Grisez called CRS’ policy regarding condoms “troubling”, and rightly questioned the nature of CRS’ partnerships with contraception and abortion-promoting organizations. 

In response to our reports, CRS has repeatedly attempted to deflect and deny that it was in any way complicit in, or responsible for, the objectively immoral aspects of the projects that it implemented.  For example, when asked about the contraception-promoting program called Healthy Choices 2 (HC2) mentioned above, CRS responded in a letter to Population Research Institute and the Lepanto Institute that the PEPFAR document in question, indicating that CRS had implemented Healthy Choices 2, was mistaken and that the matter would be corrected.  

The PEPFAR document was duly removed from the government website and a new version redacting all indications that CRS had implemented Healthy Choices 2 was uploaded in its place.  We suspected that CRS was not being entirely candid, however, and submitted a FOIA request to USAID for the original documents outlining the project.  These proved that CRS had indeed implemented Healthy Choices 2, as well as SHUGA, despite its attempts to first deny and then cover up its involvement, apparently with the complicitly of PEPFAR administrators.

It is the sincere hope of the Population Research Institute and the Lepanto Institute that the troubling facts contained in this report inspire the bishops of the United States to recognize the inherent danger of allowing its international aid and development agency, Catholic Relief Services, act as an arm of the federal government in carrying out government-funded Sexual and Reproductive Health projects.  Such projects always, whether funded under the aegis of  PEPFAR or another USAID health program, invariably involve the promotion and/or provision of contraception and condoms and require direct collaboration with organizations that peddle the same. 

Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, On the Service of Charity – still in effect – gives specific instruction on the reception of funds from organizations that peddle sexual immorality:

Art. 10. § 3. In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching. Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these 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.

There is no doubt that both USAID and PEPFAR – which separately or jointly funded every single project detailed in this report – are organizations that “pursue ends contrary to the Church’s teaching.”  It is our view that CRS’s entanglement in such projects, which takes varying forms, makes CRS an accomplice to the moral crimes illustrated herein.  Involvement in such programs is an occasion of scandal for the faithful, both in Africa and in the United States.

We suggest that, rather than taking federal funding, CRS should rely on the goodwill and generosity of American Catholics for spiritual and financial assistance in carrying out international aid and development projects that fully comport with Catholic teaching.  

We further recommend that, in carrying out such projects, that 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.  

As our report demonstrates, this is not currently the case.  In our view, 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.

Indeed, as Germain Grisez noted a decade ago, “Faithful Catholics who have donated to CRS in recent years for AIDS relief did so because they expected the program to be carried out in a distinctively Catholic way.  Had they not expected this, they could have donated to a secular organization fighting AIDS.  If CRS officials have used donations otherwise than they have led donors to expect, CRS officials have misappropriated those funds.”

Our review of CRS’ USAID/PEPFAR practices in several African countries strongly indicates that the concerns that prompted our, and Germain Grisez’s, earlier concerns remain essentially unresolved.

At the present time we do not see how lay Catholics can in good conscience support or donate to Catholic Relief Services.  We recommend that the bishops of the U.S., both individually and collectively, withdraw their support as well.

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