Meeting with CRS Head Carolyn Woo Last Year Proved Fruitless
MADAGASCAR. – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) claims that allegations that it has used funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in Madagascar are “simply false.” Yet these charges do not originate with PRI, but reflect the views of the bishops and clergy of Madagascar.
During our month-long investigation of CRS activities in Madagascar, our investigator interviewed a number of bishops and clergy in the country, many of whom leveled serious charges against CRS. These ranged from promoting abortifacient contraception and a failure to hire Catholics, to wasteful spending habits and a refusal to work through the local ordinary. Here are a series of quotes from these interviews:
Promoting and Distributing Contraceptives and Abortifacient Drugs
“Even in my own diocese! Without my knowledge,…they [CRS] were 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’??” So, there you have it: They [CRS] were following the instructions of USAID.’” Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina (Tamatave)
“Well, one thing for sure, you can go into the most remote, middle-of-nowhere place now and you’ll find it well stocked with abortifacient products. And, you know, they [the community health workers under CRS] are giving the shots (depo provera) now!” Fr. Jean Jagu, Vicar at SMM Church in Brickaville
Failure to Hire Catholics
“I’m not sure why, and I don’t want to exaggerate, but maybe 70% of its staff, or even more – is not Catholic; they’re not Catholic… I do understand that about CRS’s commitments to the U.S. Government…but, the question that remains is: Why are there so few Catholics on CRS’s staff…that I don’t understand so well.” Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina (Tamatave)
“CRS has a very bad reputation here in the diocese: most of its employees are Protestants!” Diocesan Priest
“The problem here in Madagascar is that CRS is staffed by Protestants.” Fr. Jean Aimé, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Toamasina
“Maybe CRS’s participation in artificial-contraception-promotion programs is the reason that CRS mainly hires Protestants, who have no objection to family planning. If CRS hired Catholics, some of those Catholics might object more strongly to CRS’s participation in that kind of thing.” Fr. Liva, SMM, Pastor, St. Thérèse Parish, Tamatave
Refusal to Work Through the Local Bishop and Through the Local Church
“You know, CRS works outside of the Church. It has the name ‘Catholic’ Relief Services but [laughing] doesn’t work, really, with Catholics. Even the personnel of CRS are nearly all Protestant.” Father Jean Noel, Head of Bureau de Coordination des Actions Sociales, archdiocese of Antananarivo.
“We [the Montfort Fathers] might have the same name [Catholic] but we’re not in the same family.” Fr. Jean Jagu, Vicar at SMM Church in Brickaville
I had been here in Tamatave for already more than three years, and, maybe this was partly my fault, but, I didn’t even know where the CRS office in town was! … So, when I got back to Tamatave I did go over to their office and, to my great surprise – have you seen it? – it’s a very big office and organization!…
Just this year CRS held a very big meeting here in town – a “capacity-building” meeting or something, at a hotel here – and I heard about it only accidentally, when I was up in the [town] of Diego, and somebody told me about the meeting to be held [in my own town]. I was embarrassed; I didn’t know anything about it. Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina (Tamatave)
“You never see ‘them’ [CRS] en brousse [in the bush]. They drive in…and then they disappear.” Fr. Jean Jagu, Vicar at SMM Church in Brickaville
“That’s what really hurts me. How to work with those CRS people?… But, you know, as soon as I speak of a ‘partnership’ with them, then everybody runs away and hides.” Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of Antananarivo, [the Capital City of Madagascar]
“The archbishop recently told one parish not to bother applying to CRS for aid, because it wouldn’t work, and if it did, the reporting/accounting procedures would be impossible for the parish to fulfill. He directed the parish to BUCAS [Bureau de Coordination des Actions Sociales] instead.” Fr. Jean Noël Rakotondrazafy
Wasteful Spending Habits
“And then, the money that CRS gets: a large part of it goes towards administration, while they make us work like dogs. And then they collect two-thirds…and they give us crumbs. They are the ones who need to explain: Why do they receive such big salaries?” Archbishop Odon Razanakolona
“They [CRS] were only good for providing big cars and big salaries and c[a]n’t see that they accomplished much.” Fr. Jean Jagu
“Yes; one time, for ‘visibility’ purposes, they [CRS-Madagascar representatives] came in here [to my office] and asked me to put up this thing, this sign, with “USAID” on it; to put it up behind my desk. I threw them the hell out of my office: ‘Take your sign and your money out of here. I don’t need it. I’ve lived in my poverty; leave me in my poverty.’” Archbishop Odon Razanakolona
CRS Claims at Odds with Views of Local Bishops
Compare the above quotes from Malagasy bishops and clergy, who have long experienced how CRS operates on the ground in their country, with what CRS says about its policies:
“As a pro-life organization, CRS programming does not include the promotion or distribution of artificial family planning or the distribution of abortifacients in any country in which we work.
“Committed to our Catholic identity, we review all organizations via a vetting process that begins with our local Bishops in-country.”
“Serving the poor and the Church to bring God’s love to neighbors in need, while promoting the dignity of life from beginning to end, is a PRIVILEGE for CRS.”
The Catholic Church in Madagascar would have trouble accepting any of these claims. Local clergy distainfully refer to CRS as the so-called “Catholic” Relief Services, complain that it is violating Church teaching on the Life issues, and suggest that, instead of standing in solidarity with the local Church, it is instead practicing a kind of economic apartheid.
Malagasy Bishops Complained Privately to Carolyn Woo Last Year — to no avail.
CRS claims that “we are open to and welcome correction, presented to us in the spirit of Christian charity and with the intention of helping us better animate the Gospel mission of serving the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.”
But it then goes on to attack PRI for airing the grievances of the Catholic Church in Madagascar: “In substance and tone, these recent unrelenting attacks do not manifest this spirit. They attempt to cause division in the Body of Christ. This is harmful to the Church and to the pro-life cause.”
The truth is somewhat different.
In September 2012 Carolyn Woo came to Madagascar at the request of the Madagascar bishops, who had been trying to arrange a meeting with the heads of CRS for several years. At that meeting they told Dr. Woo of their concerns about CRS’ activities in their dioceses.
It is thus no surprise that some months later, their patience exhausted, they shared their frustrations with CRS with us. Some months have gone by since then and we, too, have been disappointed by the lack of corrective action on the part of CRS.
CRS’ quarrel is not with Population Research Institute, but with the Catholic Church of Madagascar.
It is CRS’ activities there, in Madagascar, that are, to quote CRS’ own words, “caus[ing] division in the Body of Christ [and are] … harmful to the Church and to the pro-life cause.”
Catholic Relief Services, for the love of God and the unity of the Catholic Church, heal thyself!