Millions and millions of children die each year of easily preventable diseases.  Some of the reasons for this are structural, but others are just about good-old-fashioned lack of resources. Aid organizations often don’t have the drugs required to treat AIDS victims, the staff to help dig wells or run seed fairs, or the mosquito nets to distribute to persons at risk of contracting malaria.

And when they don’t have these resources, children die. Babies die.  The most important child killer in the world, especially relative to how much political time and attention it gets, is global poverty.

One of the best-run poverty-fighting organizations in the world is actually run by the US Catholic Bishops. Catholic Relief Services is a truly global powerhouse, serving more than 100 million people in 91 countries on five continents. They limit handouts to their (substantial) disaster-relief efforts, but focus on economic and political structures in most of their other work. Here are just a few examples:

  • Conferences pushing for accountability for oil revenue
  • Seed Fairs
  • Trafficking seminars for border police
  • Conferences on fighting child labor
  • Microfinance Programs
  • Peacebuilding Curriculum
  • Classroom Construction
  • Development of bank contracts for community development
  • Six Year RAPIDS (Reaching AIDS-effected People through Integrated Development and Support) consortium project

And in an age where virtually every aid organization at least gives lip service to avoiding paternalism in the service of subsidiarity, CRS has actually worked closely with the bishops, priests and laypeople of the peoples they are trying to help.  The local Catholic Church tells them what they need. This huge structural advantage for CRS has made them one of the best aid organizations in the world.  So whether you contribute to their famous Lenten Rice Bowl Project, or a more traditional online donation, you are not only contributing to peace and justice throughout the world, you are literally saving lives.

At least on the face of it, CRS should get enthusiastic support from pro-life groups. And most pro-life organizations do support them. But sadly, a few groups are not only unsupportive, they are downright hostile.  Picking up on a blog post by Human Life International’s “Population Research Institute”, LifeSiteNews claimed that an “on-the-ground investigation in Madagascar has found that the U.S. Bishops’ relief agency is distributing contraceptives and abortifacients in the African country as part of a cross-country program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.”

CRS has responded by saying that they are “a pro-life organization dedicated to preserving the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”  While they are “open to and welcome correction, presented to us by people and organizations who offer it in the spirit of Christian charity”, CRS rightly points out that in “substance and tone, these recent unrelenting attacks are not helpful. They attempt to cause division in the Body of Christ. This is harmful to the Church and to the pro-life cause.” While they have partners from other organizations, to be sure, these partnerships “present effective methods and procedures that demonstrate the efficacy of Catholic approaches to health and family planning. These are our opportunities to make space in the public for the Catholic viewpoint and to witness to our faith.”

CRS, simply put, does not partner with organizations in the way that certain groups are charging.  In a response specifically to the Madagascar story, CRS points out the following:

The “report” is just plain wrong.

Population Research Institute charges that CRS, along with other international aid groups, distributes family planning materials. This is not the case. We are puzzled by quotes saying we do “the same work” in family planning as secular organizations since none of the work that CRS does in Madagascar is in this area.

CRS does work with community health workers, volunteers who are not CRS employees, in compliance with government directives to work through existing local structures. We focus specifically on educating these community workers on nutrition, water and sanitation, and malaria prevention. CRS in no way participated in the training of anyone on topics of contraceptives.

The Population Research Institute “report” makes reference to a project CRS undertook with CARE in Madagascar, but contrary to the allegations made, the partnership with CARE involved water and sanitation, nothing else. It also quotes one official from USAID, but his name is not known to any members of the CRS staff. We are trying to determine his identity and role.

The report goes on to quote one person who is anonymous, identified only as a “zone supervisor” for CRS, saying that the agency does family planning work. We do not know who this person is, but if he is accurately quoted, he is wrong. It should be noted that the vast majority of those who work for CRS are natives of Madagascar. Their first language would be Malagasy, their second French. We do not know the linguistic abilities of the investigators responsible for the “report.”

CRS has detailed, blow by blow, rejoinders to the other false charges being made against them.  If you feel strongly about these matters, please take a bit of time to get the correct information “out there” to counteract the false information.  In some ways, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  Not only is Catholic Relief Services one of the best things the Church has going for it (a shinning light for the American Catholic Church during many dark periods over the last couple decades, to be sure), but thousands and thousands of lives are literally at stake.

It is an utter scandal that anyone would stop donating to CRS as a result of these false claims.  The last thing we pro-lifers should be thinking about is how to delegitimize groups like CRS.  For most of us (including me), the far more important question to ask why we don’t give them more of the money we spend on needless luxuries.  Especially if we claim the name “pro-life.”