When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack.
Over the past few years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been steadily criticized by a few prolife groups claiming the bishops’ domestic-poverty program has been funding organizations that promote abortion and artificial contraception. We’ve written about this before. The critics’ stock-and-trade is guilt by association (you know, Jesus’ M.O.). From time to time they may discover a grant that violates the bishops’ own guidelines—which were recently revised to respond to these ceaseless complaints. But mostly it's your basic smear job. They comb coalitions for members who have taken public stances antithetical to church teaching on sex and abortion, then tie them to recipients of Catholic funding. (Protip: If someone on the board of your charity has ever had lunch with someone who publicly disagrees with Catholic teaching on sex or abortion, don’t expect to pass muster with the magisterium of the American Life League.)
Having apparently exhausted their domestic targets, these critics have set their sights on Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ foreign-poverty organization. The latest salvo was delivered by the Population Research Institute, a $1.4 million operation based in Virginia. According to PRI, Catholic Relief Services has been “using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices” in Madagascar. PRI claims that a representative spoke with CRS workers and local clergy who confirmed that the organization had been “directly involved in the promotion and distribution of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices.”
That sounds bad, and it would be, if PRI’s reporting seemed reliable. But does it?
One of its sources in Madagascar claimed that “CRS works in family planning just like the others.” But CRS staff there had never heard of the man. PRI did produce a transcript of an interview (or several interviews?) with Nicolas Ragalison and Jean Ferlin Nambana, described as “support technicians” for CRS. Have a look:
PRI: [Is there any] way that CRS can possibly participate in this program without collaborating in the promotion of artificial contraception?
CRS: We technicians, working in parallel with the Social Development Committees, have a support role with the Community Health Workers (CHW)…. And we have to collect data, make reports, send the reports/data. We have to assure the availability of the products, of all the social-marketing products…
PRI: …including the family planning products, no?
CRS: Yes. And sometimes there are ruptures in stock.
PRI: So, you CRS technicians and USAID technicians work in the same way under SantéNet2? I’m asking if there’s a difference in the method of work, in the approach to the work, between the two.
CRS: It’s the same thing. We do the same work, including in the area of family planning.
Think PRI would hide a smoking gun if it had found one? The interview contains no clear statement that CRS does what PRI says it does. But then it looks a lot like the questions weren’t designed to elicit clear responses. Questions folded into other questions interrupted by leading follow-up questions. Why doesn’t the transcript separate Ragalison’s responses from Nambana’s? Who said what? And did the interviewer explain what he meant by “family-planning products”—or even “family planning”? American prolife activists may take “family planning” to mean artificial contraception, but Ragalison and Nambana are not American. They speak Malagasy. It’s not even clear whether they speak French. What language was the interview conducted in? PRI doesn’t say.
Nor will PRI come clean about who was conducting the interview. Steven Mosher, president of PRI, wouldn’t tell Catholic News Service whom he sent to investigate CRS in Madagascar. Mosher says donors approached him to raise concerns about the way CRS was using church funds. But he didn’t identify them either.
What’s more, according to CRS president Carolyn Woo, this unnamed investigator was not upfront about the nature of his visit. He gained access by “posing as a donor,” Woo told Catholic News Service, and “never explained that he was an online reporter doing research.” He even got interviews with local bishops. One of them, PRI alleges, complained that “they [CRS] was working on an artificial contraception product here” (PRI supplied the bracketed clarification, not I). Which is strange, because just last week the USCCB reported that the bishops quoted by PRI “repudiated allegations that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was involved with providing contraceptives or abortafacient drugs and denied that he has a strained relationship with the agency.”
At least one member of the bishops conference has had enough. Last week, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, described PRI as an “allegedly prolife” group that “thrive[s] on attacking the church or its enemies.” There’s more:
While it was meant to inflict harm on a highly respected U.S. Catholic charity, it took dead aim this time at Africa. From time to time, I suspect when these organizations need money, they try to stir up a hornet’s nest or storm by attacking a Catholic organization, usually falsely accusing them of being anti-life, pro-contraception, either pro or soft on abortion, etc., etc., etc. The storms start small enough and then occasionally grow in size. It’s simply a money raising scheme with little regard for the human lives which they allege they seek to protect—well maybe it is only pre-born human life in which they are interested.
Lynch knows of what he speaks. He was spared such attacks during the twelve years he spent on the board of CRS, “but from the time Cardinal Timothy Dolan succeeded me as chairman, these storms have developed off the East Coast of the U.S. and moved eastward toward Africa, where CRS does an amazing job of supporting and sustaining human life, even with programs of pre-natal maternal/child health care, which has helped lower the infant (in and out of the womb) death rate."
And he may be right about these groups’ fundraising designs. In 2009, the American Life League, which has made a habit of slamming the CCHD, took in $6.7 million. But by 2011, its revenue had dropped by $1.5 million. (Perhaps some of its donors got wind of ALL’s questionable financial practices.)
Back to Lynch:
I am convinced that many so called pro-life groups are not really pro-life but merely anti-abortion. We heard nothing from the heavy hitters in the prolife movement in the last week when Florida last night executed a man on death row for 34 years having been diagnosed as a severe schizophrenic. Which personality did the state execute? Many priests grow weary of continual calls to action for legislative support for abortion and contraception related issues but nothing for immigration reform, food aid, and capital punishment.
This from a bishop who threatened to cancel his diocese’s employee health coverage if the original form of the contraception mandate wasn’t modified. And his prolife credentials are nothing to sneeze at either. In 1974, before he was ordained, Lynch organized the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment in order to coordinate Catholic opposition to Roe. He was defending life born and unborn long before PRI was a gleam in its founder’s eye.
“We’ve heard it all before,” Lynch writes, “responded to it in the past, know its sources, and spend way too much energy in defense of the agency.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops should heed his advice. To the extent that critics behave as serious critics should, the bishops should take them seriously. To the extent that they engage in James O’Keefe-style “guerilla journalism,” hide behind anonymity, or call compromise "the devil's work," they can be safely ignored. The church’s poverty programs exist to protect the neediest among us, not to enrich the coffers of culture warriors.
(H/T Bold Faith Type)