Catholic Relief Services’ Madagascar Aid Analyzed

Scandalous claims don’t appear to hold up: Part 1 of a Register Special Report.

WASHINGTON — A bombshell report from the Population Research Institute (PRI) alleging Catholic Relief Services’ involvement in population-control activities in Madagascar has not been substantiated, as Church officials in Madagascar and CRS’ own internal investigators say they have found no evidence to corroborate the charges.

The respected pro-life organization has also admitted that its allegations of CRS misconduct are nearly a year old and that it never followed up on its investigator’s findings with either CRS leaders or the Madagascar bishops.

PRI has a long-standing reputation for research into population-control activities conducted throughout the world, particularly by the United Nations and the People’s Republic of China. PRI’s president, Steven Mosher, first exposed China’s one-child policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations, and is a recognized expert on population-control activities.

On July 25, PRI alleged Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ international relief organization, was actively engaged in population control and compromising its Catholic identity and Catholic teaching in Madagascar.

“CRS is using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices,” Mosher stated in a report co-written with Anne Morse, PRI’s media coordinator. Mosher added that the funding only ceased when the USAID-funded SantéNet2 program ceased.

PRI investigated CRS’ involvement in the SantéNet2 program, a five-year program designed to improve community-level health services in most of Madagascar. Mosher told the Register that PRI began investigating CRS in Madagascar after hearing concerns from some unnamed CRS donors.

PRI contracted with an investigator, whom Mosher said had 20 years’ experience in French-speaking countries, to conduct a month of on-the-ground interviews in Madagascar. Mosher told the Register the investigator spent November-December 2012 in Madagascar and spoke in French with multiple CRS officials, Madagascar Catholic clergy and local USAID officials.

In the PRI report,  Mosher said the results showed “a long-standing pattern of complicity and cooperation” of CRS “high-level administrators down to local-level employees in rural areas” in the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients.

The report cited Jean Patrick Bourahimou, alleged to be a program manager for USAID-SantéNet2, who stated that CRS used the “same approach” as the other non-governmental organizations in the SantéNet2 program.

“For us, there’s nothing special with CRS: CRS works in family planning, just like the others,” he said.

The allegations appeared to be corroborated by the interviews of two other alleged CRS employees, who said, “We [CRS community health workers] do the same work, including in the area of family planning.”

PRI released a follow-up report that alleged Madagascar bishops and clergy had the same complaint: that CRS was “promoting abortifacient contraception.”

“Even in my own diocese! Without my knowledge ... they [CRS] were working on an artificial-contraception project here,” said Archbishop Désiré Tsarahazana of Toamasina, according to PRI’s investigator. That report also contained other alleged complaints from Archbishop Tsarahazana and Church leaders in Madagascar, ranging from frustration over CRS not hiring more Catholics to allegations of wasteful spending and what PRI described as a “refusal to work through the local ordinary.”

The report alleged that CRS community-health workers in the SantéNet2 program “provide injectable contraceptives,” such as Depo Provera, and contraceptive implants, such as Implanon. It stated that CRS has more than “250 community-health workers (CHWs) in the states (regions) of Atsinanana and Androy alone who provide injectable contraceptives.”

“One wonders how many women CRS’ community-health workers have chemically sterilized over the same time period,” Mosher wrote. “Or, to put it another way: How many children have been aborted or contracepted out of existence by CRS?”


Bishops Refute Report

PRI’s allegations sent shockwaves into both CRS and the USCCB — until the Madagascar bishops themselves denied that CRS was involved in any immoral activity in their dioceses.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, spoke directly on Aug. 2 with Archbishop Tsarahazana, the president of Madagascar’s bishops’ conference, through a Malagasy (the native language of Madagascar) interpreter to see if the allegations were true. Bishop Gerald Kicanas, CRS board chairman, spoke similarly with Archbishop Odon Razanakolona of the Archdiocese of Antananarivo on Aug. 5 to investigate if he had any concerns.

Joan Rosenhauer, CRS’ executive vice president of U.S. operations, and Shannon Senefeld, director of program impact and quality assurance, both told the Register that they were present on both calls with the archbishops. Rosenhauer said both archbishops denied the allegations against CRS and authorized the U.S. bishops to make a press statement on their behalf affirming their support for CRS and its fidelity to Catholic teaching in Madagascar. The USCCB issued press releases to that effect on Aug. 2 and Aug. 5.

Both archbishops also told Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Kicanas that they never knew they had been speaking with a PRI representative, according to Rosenhauer.

Both Rosenhauer and Bishop Kicanas independently told the Register that the archbishops in their conversations said they were under the impression they were speaking with a CRS donor and felt their remarks as published lacked context.

But Mosher said that PRI’s investigator had “no reason for him to identify himself as PRI,” because he was a contracted investigator, not a member of the media or a PRI employee. Mosher said the interviews were “on the record,” because the investigator made clear that interviewees knew they were being recorded.


No PRI Follow-Up

Mosher told the Register that PRI made no follow-up with either the Madagascar archbishops or with CRS in the eight months between the investigation’s conclusion in December 2012 and the report’s release in July. Mosher said PRI did not follow up because it had “no more questions for the archbishops.”

PRI also did not reach out to CRS’ president, Carolyn Woo, or Bishop Kicanas before releasing the report because no changes in CRS’ methods of operation were evident, Mosher said. “They hadn’t issued any press releases, hadn’t admitted any wrongdoing and hadn’t mentioned any changes in the way they operate,” Mosher told the Register.

Mosher said he did try to contact Woo after releasing the initial PRI report, but the CRS president has not returned his calls.

“We’ve only released a fraction of what [PRI’s investigator] found, and this involvement in family planning was clearly a blatant violation of Church teaching,” Mosher said, indicating the complete report would be published soon.


‘Confusion’ Acknowledged

PRI’s allegations about CRS in Madagascar did not come completely out of left field, CRS acknowledges. Archbishop Tsarahazana did relay to Cardinal Dolan and CRS that there had been “some confusion,” Senefeld explained. “Some priests had thought CRS was involved in promoting abortion and contraception; things like the Depo Provera shots,” she said.

But Senefeld said Archbishop Tsarahazana told Cardinal Dolan and CRS representatives during their phone call that his diocese had already investigated the allegations and found them untrue.

According to Senefeld, Archbishop Tsarahazana said that, approximately one year ago in one community, some people went to their priest with information alleging CRS involvement in artificial family-planning practices. The priest then passed along this information to the diocese.

Archbishop Tsarahazana said the diocese followed up by going to the source of the information, and it found that the health worker involved in artificial family planning was not actually a CRS employee or a part of any CRS project. The archbishop said the diocese then told the priest and the community that CRS was not involved in anything violating Catholic teaching.

Senefeld also said CRS “followed up immediately” after staff reported the “strange questions” about CRS employees not following Church teaching from PRI’s undercover investigator.

What CRS found was that Jean Patrick Bourahimou was misidentified by PRI as a USAID employee, when he was in fact an employee of Research Triangle Institute (RTI) with the SantéNet2 project.

CRS’ most recent investigation also found that the two CRS employees PRI quoted were short-term employees, based with their diocesan partner in the SantéNet2 project.


Charges Repeated

Even with the statements of the Madagascar archbishops released, PRI doubled down on the charge that CRS had been involved in artificial family planning through its participation in the SantéNet2 program.

Mosher told the Register that CRS was not engaged now in promoting abortion or contraception in Madagascar, but speculated that was only because the SantéNet2 program ended in July.

“It is true they are no longer involved,” he said. “But are they no longer involved because they realized it was wrong and got out of it, or are they no longer involved because the program simply ended? I think the answer to that question would tell us a lot.”

However, USAID’s own January 2013 report on the SantéNet2 program specifically states CRS would not cooperate with or supply artificial family-planning activities. It stated that informants in September 2011 reported CRS “excluded certain contraceptives, such as condoms, from its services due to religious beliefs.”

The USAID report did acknowledge that a “CRS informant” told USAID that some CRS community health workers in the Androy region would go behind CRS’ back to hand out condoms “after obtaining them from other sources.”

Senefeld told the Register that every CRS Madagascar employee is required to take an online training course called “Protecting Life” to educate them in the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception and the sanctity of life.

“This goes to every single employee, whatever their position,” Senefeld said.

“CRS is very clear that we do not support or promote either abortion or contraception.”

She stressed that CRS investigates any reported employee violations of Catholic moral teaching and that violating CRS’ Catholic beliefs could result in termination.

“The first thing we do is contact the country program and get all of the facts,” Senefeld said. “Then we contact the person who is causing the problem and try to get all of the facts. We then review that in light of the guidance that we have regarding decisions.” She said CRS followed this protocol when made aware of PRI’s allegations.


Endorsement of CRS

Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of Brooklyn told the Register that he has served on CRS’ board for a full year and has not found any evidence that CRS was failing to live up to Catholic teaching.

He said CRS audits its own programs to make sure they are consistent with the Catholic faith. “When we audit, we audit for policy, not just financial,” Bishop Mansour said. “We audit in such a way to see if anything we are doing is inconsistent with our mission and reputation.”

“Other Caritas agencies want to be like CRS: with policy auditors, financial auditors, with Catholic-identity audits,” Bishop Mansour said.

“CRS is trustworthy,” he said. “And they are accountable.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.