Africa archbishop affirms support for Catholic Relief Services

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A Madagascar archbishop has distanced himself from controversial claims that Catholic Relief Services distributed contraceptive drugs and abortifacients in his country, affirming that the agency's actions do not violate Catholic teaching.

The U.S. bishops' conference reported Aug. 2 that Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina voiced his "strong support" for the relief agency and confirmed that CRS does not provide or facilitate access to contraceptive or abortion-causing drugs in the region.

The archbishop, who serves as president of the bishops' conference of Madagascar, spoke by phone Friday with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, U.S. bishops' conference president, and CRS chairman of the board Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.

According to the U.S. bishops' conference, Archbishop Tsarahazana said that there had been "some confusion in his archdiocese that was quickly resolved." He said Catholic Relief Services acted according to Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception or abortion, which Catholic teaching recognizes as sinful.

The Madagascar archbishop said he would consult with other bishops in his country to confirm that such activity is not taking place.

The U.S. bishops' inquiry comes after the D.C.-based Population Research Institute on July 26 charged that Catholic Relief Services 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."

The institute contended that the agency's cooperation with U.S. Agency for International Development contractors, particularly in the SantéNet2 project in Madagascar, has compromised its Catholic identity.

The Population Research Institute said the Catholic bishops of Madagascar came to their organization after CRS failed to address their concerns about its activities. In September 2012, the relief agency's president and CEO Carolyn Woo visited Madagascar at the local bishops' request.

The institute quoted Archbishop Tsarahazana and several local priests reporting that the agency was involved in promoting family planning efforts that contradicted Catholic teaching.

It reported that the archbishop had said that Catholic Relief Services, without his knowledge, was "working on an artificial contraception project here."

"And, then, the Catholic people around here heard about it and said:  "What's that all about?  That's supposed to be 'Catholic'?" he said.

The report also said that some local clergy complained that the agency failed to work with the local Catholic Church, voicing concerns that there are too few Catholics in its local staff.

John Rivera, Catholic Relief Services' communications director, said July 30 that the relief agency was "confused" by the "strong allegations" because "we simply do not engage in such work."

"All current CRS grants in Madagascar clearly delineate what activities CRS will implement within its programming portfolio, and artificial family planning and abortifacients are most definitely not included in any of our programming grants."

The agency said its programs in Madagascar are involved in water and sanitation, food aid, child vaccination, nutrition and malaria prevention.

It condemned the initial Population Research Institute report as "inaccurate and misleading."

Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said he was "delighted" that Cardinal Dolan contacted Archbishop Tsarahazana and that they were "able to talk about the problems."

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"We don't have any quotes from the conversation, but we did learn that there was some confusion in the archdiocese. But the issue has now been resolved. So I'm delighted."

Mosher said he would like to know how the agency resolved the problem about the alleged assistance in providing drugs and procedures that violated Catholic teaching.

He added that the Population Research Institute was able to be "an honest broker and help to bring Cardinal Dolan together with the archbishop" to resolve the controversy.

His conciliatory statements are a change in tone from the institute's earlier report, co-authored by Mosher, which had contended that its investigation in Madagascar showed "a long-standing pattern of complicity and cooperation" in programs that violate Catholic teaching.

The report said that by cooperating with USAID, Catholic Relief Services had "in effect lost its Catholic identity" and was now "just one more secular humanitarian organization funded by USAID."

The Population Research Institute report insinuated that CRS' hiring of a regional manager with past employment in family planning with the United Nations' Population Fund was intended to broadcast the Catholic agency's seriousness in carrying out a "family planning / population control program."

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