Catholic Relief Services Emphasizes Faithfulness to Church Teaching

U.S. bishops' overseas relief agency responses to recent concerns over funding.

Catholic Relief Services has said that it took steps to fight against the possibility of scandal due to its funding of an aid group that provides contraception in other countries.

The U.S. bishops' overseas relief agency responded to recent concerns over its funding of CARE, an international humanitarian organization that provides relief to the needy in developing nations but also offers contraception and early abortion-inducing drugs.

The funding from the bishops' group went towards programs providing food, water and sanitation to the poor and needy in Central America and Africa.

Catholic Relief Services has said that this funding was carefully restricted to morally acceptable purposes and had been reviewed by John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who found that it did not constitute “support of or involvement in immoral activities.”

While the bioethics center did have serious concerns over the possibility of scandal based on the mistaken assumption that the relief agency endorsed CARE’s position on these issues, Catholic Relief Services said that it tried to counter this risk by working “to publicly affirm our adherence to the teaching of the Church.”

A headline on a July 24 article on had originally indicated that Haas had advised Catholic Relief Services not to fund CARE. This headline was later changed to say Haas had warned the agency that “scandal would be unavoidable” with the grant.

Catholic Relief Services responded by saying that Haas did not advise on any course of action, but left that decision to the board of the relief agency, which “made the decision to award the grants and took steps to minimize the risk” of scandal due to misunderstanding.

In a July 25 online statement, the National Catholic Bioethics Center clarified that it does not “approve” grants for Catholic Relief Services, but instead gives occasional “ethical analyses” of grant requests when asked to do so as part of a review process

When asked to analyze Catholic Relief Services’ grants to CARE, the bioethics center determined that the grants “would likely save lives” and that no other agency without these problematic views was available as an alternative partner to achieve these goals.  

It also concluded that the funds given to CARE do not go into a general pool that could be moved around to free up money for other purposes. Under federal law, the money given by Catholic Relief Services could be used for nothing other than the designated purpose of serving the poor and starving in other nations. 

Due to the great good being achieved in saving lives, the lack of another effective way of achieving this good and the avoidance of contributing to the evil of contraception, the bioethics center determined that the grant was acceptable, according to Catholic moral principles.

However, the group “was gravely concerned about the risk of scandal that could arise” from a Catholic agency’s cooperation with an organization that disagreed with important Church teaching.

Therefore, the bioethics center “strongly cautioned” Catholic Relief Services about “the problems of misunderstanding that could arise with a grant to CARE” and encouraged the aid organization to issue a public repudiation of CARE’s positions on these issues.

Haas told Catholic News Agency that “our position was, in a way, both/and.”

“We did not believe the awarding of the grant would involve CRS in immoral cooperation, but we did fear that it would give rise to scandal,” he said.  “However, this was a judgment that would have to be made by the board of CRS.”

Catholic Relief Services responded to these concerns by explaining in its mission statement that it is sometimes necessary to “participate in humanitarian initiatives undertaken by a wide range of groups,” including some that may not always be fully consistent with Church teaching.

However, the agency stressed, its involvement with such groups is “always and only focused on activities that are fully consistent with Catholic teaching.”

It added that it “neither facilitates, endorses nor enables any violation of those teachings” and that it utilizes a review process to ensure that funds are used in compliance with Church teaching.

Recent statements released by Catholic Relief Services emphasized that the group does not agree with CARE’s position on contraception and does not “support any positions that would be in violation of Catholic teaching on human dignity and the sanctity of human life.”

CRS emphasized, “Faithfulness to Church teaching always has been and always will be our policy."