Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

The US bishops’ weak defense of their overseas-charity agency

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 27, 2020

Since the beginning of this month, the Lepanto Institute has been releasing a series of damaging reports about Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official overseas charity of the US bishops’ conference. The reports show fairly conclusively that CRS supports a web site that promotes contraception, and partners with organizations that provide abortion referrals in Africa. In fact it seems clear that CRS has actively recruited the participation of such organizations into a network designed to aid needy women in Nigeria.

Maybe there is some justification for these unsavory partnerships. If so, CRS—and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—should provide it. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, made the point simply and clearly:

This report by the Lepanto Institute must be proven to be false. If what Lepanto says is accurate then we should call for a thorough investigation of CRS.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it? If the Lepanto reports are wrong, prove them wrong. If they are right—in fact even if they are only partially right—then a full investigation of CRS is warranted, to ensure the faithful that the agency is not using the funds donated by pious Catholics to promote immoral causes.

(Just by the way, Bishop Strickland issued that challenge after the first bombshell report from the Lepanto Institute; there have been two subsequent salvos.)

So what was the response? Last week the executive committee of the USCCB issued a statement containing the bland reassurance that the work of CRS is “grounded in the loving teachings of the Catholic Church.” That’s a good start, I suppose. But what about the charges in the Lepanto reports?

The USCCB statement continues: “CRS stands in firm defense of life. Criticisms to the contrary should not detract from the powerful impact your donations have on the lives of otherwise forgotten suffering populations.” Yes, but what if those criticisms are accurate? Shouldn’t CRS provide us with evidence to counter the charges? As Bishop Strickland said, the USCCB needs to “prove them wrong,” not merely to assert that they’re wrong.

In fact, if you look carefully at the short statement from the USCCB, you don’t find even an assertion that the charges made by the Lepanto Institute are inaccurate. The USCCB statement concludes this way:

We have confidence in the thorough vetting system utilized by CRS by which complaints are investigated and corrective action taken, if necessary. CRS works alongside other relief agencies that may not share our teaching. In these instances, CRS keeps its work distinct.

There’s nothing—not a word—in response to the specific claims made in the investigative reports. The closest the USCCB comes to a rebuttal is the statement that CRS “works alongside” organizations that “may not share our teaching.” The Lepanto charges are much more serious. The reports suggest that CRS supports, recruits, and helps to promote the work of organizations that are thoroughly hostile to Catholic moral teaching.

The USCCB proclaims its confidence in the CRS, but gives the faithful absolutely no reason to share that confidence.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Foundas - Apr. 03, 2020 3:53 PM ET USA

    Don’t support CRS or those that give them money ( most dioceses ).

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Apr. 03, 2020 3:32 PM ET USA

    Would the USCCB have reacted differently if some PC organization would have accused CRS of funding organizations that promote homophobia or racism?

  • Posted by: wenner1687 - Mar. 28, 2020 12:28 PM ET USA

    I've been telling fellow Catholics for years not to support the CRS. They mostly say, "But the USCCB knows what it's doing. . . ." [Bangs he'd against wall, muttering "How long O Lord?!] THANK YOU CATHOLIC CULTURE for putting this on your site.

  • Posted by: leticia.cadiz4543 - Mar. 27, 2020 3:42 PM ET USA

    The USCCB response is very disappointing. Anyway more than ever i feel justified in cutting my financial support of the CRS.