US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The bishops take a stand against critics of Catholic Relief Services

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

We've written quite a few times about the attacks from Catholic pro-life groups aimed at church agencies that serve the poor, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Charities, and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Each time, the story is the same: through some form of guilt by association, these organizations are labeled "anti-Catholic" for failing to adhere to the church's teaching on a very small set of issues, primarily abortion and contraception.

The accusations thrown around by groups like the American Life League have caused a great deal of confusion and division among Catholics. Without knowing all the facts, some people are misled by rhetoric and then pass along inaccurate information and, well, you know how gossip can spread. In recent months, CRS has devoted too much time and energy to carefully addressing and refuting the accusations made against them, but juicy soundbites about scandal in a Catholic organization always get more attention than detailed, logical explanations of the complexities involved in running an international relief and development agency.

Thankfully, the U.S. bishops have finally stepped in to defend CRS. In a press release issued today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made a long overdue statement of clarification about the groups like ALL that are making it their business to target official church-run agencies like CRS:

"We want to make it clear that those making these public critiques, albeit, we hope, in good faith, 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... The U.S. Catholic bishops stand firmly behind CRS in its commitment to promote and defend human dignity and the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and at every moment in between."

The release also takes the time to address some of the criticism against CRS, including its partnerships and its adherence to Catholic teaching (for more about this, be sure to read our interview with CRS president Carolyn Woo). The bishops are expressing their full confidence in CRS and attempting to settle this matter once and for all, reassuring Catholics that the work of CRS is an extension of the church's teaching, not a violation of it.

It remains to be seen if this statement will truly silence the critics (as of this writing, there has been no official response from ALL). My guess is that they will continue their attacks, blaming the bishops for being complicit in the supposed "anti-Catholic" activities of CRS. If that happens, they will be declaring themselves more fit to interpret the teachings of the church than its own ordained leaders.

There's certainly a place for disagreement with bishops and debate of issues between the church's leaders and the laity. But there's a difference between debate and declaring that those who disagree with you are "compromising with the devil." If the critics aren't satisfied with a definitive statement from the bishops addressing their concerns, then it only further raises the question of what their true agenda is.