At various times in the past, CRS has faced criticism from Catholic groups and individuals who are concerned that the agency is cooperating in immoral activities, including the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients.
In 2013, Catholic Relief Services was accused of being involved in a contraception and abortifacient distribution program in Madagascar.
However, the agency suggested that the allegations mistook the actions of CRS staffers with those of non-staff community health workers, who are locally chosen on the ground of the countries where they work. CRS was training Madagascar community health workers in areas such as children’s health, nutrition, and malaria prevention, and these health workers may also have been involved in contraceptive distribution programs, but they were not affiliated with CRS in doing so, the organization said.
In 2016, the agency was accused of being complicit in a contraceptive distribution program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CRS responded that while the language in the grant report was unclear, the agency had actually been working to promote Natural Family Planning in accordance with Catholic teaching. It said the report was written by an outside group that may not have understood the difference between Natural Family Planning and artificial contraception.
Catholic Relief Services has repeatedly said that it follows Catholic teaching and does not provide or facilitate access to contraception.
When CRS partners with groups that disagree with Catholic doctrine, the extent of their work together is limited to efforts that align with Church teaching, such as work to prevent malaria, promote childhood nutrition, or offer clean drinking water, the agency says. Both bishops and moral theologians review programming to ensure that it complies with Church teaching.
At a press conference following the presentation, CNA asked Mansour if he could elaborate on efforts to ensure the Catholic identity of programs in which CRS participates.
“To be honest, we are the only group that won’t do contraception, that won’t do referrals for abortions. And we make that quite clear when we write grants,” Mansour replied.
However, he said, international grant funding is often given to joint projects with multiple partners. When CRS works with partners – including other Christian groups – that do not abide by Church teaching, the agency tries to avoid scandal and make it clear that they are only participating in work that is morally acceptable.
“And all of those the grants are vetted by moral theologians and bishops on the board, as well as laity who have a strong sense of Catholic identity,” he added.
In addition, Mansour said, “when we get a complaint, we investigate it on the ground. We go to the place and we investigate with everybody. We do our best to do that.”
The agency works with more than 1,000 different partners globally, so these investigations can be a lot of work, the bishop acknowledged.
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However, he added, “I’m not afraid of doing it. I myself as chair, any time anybody had a criticism, I dealt with it personally.”
CRS has a team in place to look at concerns raised, he said. “So I think if there are still complaints out there, our ears are open to listening.”