BALTIMORE — A firestorm stirred up by an eminent Catholic moral theologian is still smoldering, even though one big conflagration has apparently been doused.
Germain Grisez is professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
In an article published in The Catholic World Report, Grisez said that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) promotes condom use and masturbation as beneficial in preventing AIDS infection, even though it tried to cover up its promotion by calling it informational only. Then, to compound the error, wrote Grisez, Catholic Relief Services told its agents to hide its involvement when promoting condom use.
The group’s December 2007 position paper on the prevention of HIV transmission states: “Any written educational material that contains information about condoms must not carry the CRS name or logo” (original emphasis).
Grisez called for an investigation, and the chairman of the Catholic Relief Services board of directors responded. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee said that his board took the initiative to correct what he called a misjudgment.
“The bishops own and run CRS, and two of our committees reviewed the matter and gave us counsel,” Archbishop Dolan said. “They agreed there was a mistake. Whereas the Catholic Relief Services policy is firmly consonant with Church teachings, some field reps should never have become involved with this.”
A flip chart was mailed to Catholic Relief Services partners in October 2007 that contained cartoons illustrating how to use a condom and a testimonial from a condom user who says, “Being HIV-positive shouldn’t stop you from enjoying sex,” and gave details of sexual acts.
Archbishop Dolan said that the flip chart was from the government of Zambia and modified by Catholic Relief Services. Grisez said Catholic Relief Services mailed out the flip chart and also claimed ownership of it in a cover letter from an agency official in Baltimore.
John Klink, president of the International Catholic Migration Commission and a consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Family, said service agencies walk a fine line between evangelization and simply providing basic care.
“Very often, you are asked to simply respond to basic human needs, and by so doing, you are not endangering their souls but are making them as whole as possible as human beings,” Klink said. “It’s a fine line, but the basic thing most Catholic NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are trying to do is to follow the social teachings of the Church to do good.”
John Haas is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.
Haas said that the Grisez article started a helpful debate.
“It served a good purpose. I think the intentions of the Catholic Relief Services people were honorable, and they eliminated the flip chart entirely once the bishops said this isn’t the way to go,” Haas said.
Archbishop Dolan said that a new document to replace the one that was eliminated after Grisez took issue with it is “95% ready.” It will include catechetical instruction on Church teaching about chastity and marriage.
Paul Barra is based in
Reidville, South Carolina.