US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Catholic Relief Services becomes latest victim of attacks from within the church

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

On the heels of the lengthy attack from Catholics against the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and its anti-poverty grants, church watchdogs have now turned their attention to another organization aimed at helping the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official international humanitarian relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops, is coming under fire for an item that someone recently dug up in its 2010 financial reports. CRS gave $5.3 million to a humanitarian organization called CARE which was used for water and sanitation programs in Central America and for food and nutrition programs in Africa.

So what's the problem? Even though it was in no way related to the projects that CRS funded, CARE also supports family planning--including access to contraceptives--as part of its efforts to reduce poverty and injustice, particularly towards women. Critics are now saying that CRS is undermining the teachings of the church and the bishops by working with CARE to provide clean water and food to developing communities. According to that logic, since Melinda Gates also supports family planning for impoverished countries, anyone who buys Microsoft products is going against church teaching.

CRS issued a formal response to the criticism and pointed out that they already worked with the National Catholic Bioethics Center last year--long before any complaints surfaced publicly--to review all of their partnerships. They concluded that no money from CRS has directly or indirectly supported activities that go against Catholic teaching and that they've taken measures to ensure there is no confusion that CRS supports positions contrary to Catholic teaching when they partner with someone like CARE.

For more than 60 years, CRS has been working to improve conditions for people around the world in the face of poverty, war, and natural disaster. They are one of the most respected humanitarian organizations in the world, with a stellar track record and a clear mission rooted in the Catholic faith. To even suggest that a group that has saved and improved so many lives is anything but "pro-life" is a ridiculous accusation.

The model of CRS is to partner with other organizations in the countries where they work to achieve positive outcomes for local residents. Many times those partner groups are Catholic, sometimes they are not. It is inevitable that an organization with as broad and far-reaching a scope as CRS would encounter people who don't share the same faith or believe in the same teachings. But does that mean CRS should not support a potentially life-saving project just because one of their partners doesn't agree with them on birth control?

Thus far, this attack against CRS appears to be an isolated case. Let's hope it stays that way, and that the objections of a few Catholics don't hamper the great work done by CRS to help so many people throughout the world.