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Bioethicist Haas questioned Catholic Relief Services’ support for CARE

July 25, 2012

Days after Catholic Relief Services (CRS)—the US bishops’ relief and development agency—issued a statement that referred to the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in its defense of a controversial 2010 grant, NCBC President John Haas revealed that he had cautioned the CRS board about the “unavoidable” scandal that would result.

At issue is a CRS grant of $5,380,466 to CARE, a humanitarian agency that integrates contraception into its emergency and relief efforts. Catholic Relief Services’ newly-released tax return states that the purpose of the grant was for “emergency”; CRS later stated that the grant was “used by CARE for water and sanitation programs in four Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), for food and nutrition programs, as well as water and sanitation in Madagascar; and for food and nutrition programs in Zimbabwe.”

Following a LifeSiteNews report, CRS said that a recent investigation of similar grants conducted by the National Catholic Bioethics Center found that

none of the funding from CRS was fungible. That is, there is little to no risk of the grant funds being used either (i) for purposes outside those outlined in the grant request or (ii) for freeing up money in the receiving organization for immoral purposes by virtue of their having received the grant from CRS. The NCBC found that there could be a risk of scandal over such partnerships if people become confused and wrongly assume that CRS was endorsing a partner’s position on other issues.

Following the CRS statement, Haas said that the proposed grant to CARE was “of grave concern to me” and quoted from the comments he had submitted to the CRS board:

On the anniversary of Roe v Wade in 2009 [CARE CEO Helen Gayle] called on President Obama to rescind the Mexico City Policy and fund abortions abroad. She issued this call on the very day hundreds of thousands of pro-life demonstrators including many bishops called for the reversal of Roe v Wade. Her testimony and statement are both posted on the website of CARE.

Even though the grants going to CARE are for very laudable and indeed life-saving initiatives, I believe that these very strong public positions taken by the President of CARE in complete opposition to the policies and positions of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops would certainly give rise to legitimate theological scandal if not confusion as to why the bishops would fund such an organization.

In my opinion because CARE is so well known and so high profile and because the advocacy of abortion has been so strong and public and in such opposition to the position of the bishops, scandal would be unavoidable.

“It would be different if [Gayle] weren’t so public about her opposition to the moral teaching in this area, and I said I had grave reservations about this whole thing going forward without the question of the scandal being addressed,” Haas recalled.

“CRS has a process for vetting our relationships with partners to ensure we are in full compliance with Church teaching,” CRS said in a new statement. “CRS has consulted with Dr. John Haas of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, an expert in moral theology who is a member of the bishops’ pro-life committee, to review our grants (including grants with CARE) and he found that none of them constitutes support of or involvement in immoral activities. However, he cautioned CRS of the risk of scandal if people become confused and wrongly assume that CRS was endorsing a partner’s position on other issues. To address this, CRS posted a statement posted our Mission Statement on our website, titled ‘The Catholic Values of CRS.’”

On July 25, after the appearance of the LifeSite News that cited Haas' concern about scandal, the NCBC issued a clarifying statement, noting that the group had neither approved nor disapproved the CRS grant to CARE. However, the statement noted, "since CRS has made its involvement public, the NCBC would like to address the situation in greater detail for the sake of clarity."

In its analysis of the proposed grant, the NCBC explained, the groups' ethicists concluded that the money from CRS would be used for good purposes, and the funds could not be diverted to CARE's objectionable programs. "Consequently the NCBC came to the conclusion that providing such a grant would be acceptable though the Principle of Material Cooperation."

The statement went on:

However, there is another dimension to the Principle of Material Cooperation: the consideration of the risk of scandal. Even if cooperation with an evildoer to achieve some great good were morally legitimate it still could not be done if the action of the Catholic would lead others to believe that the Catholic Church were indifferent to the evil, such as, for example, contraception.

In the case of the CRS grant to CARE, the NCBC said it "was gravely concerned about the risk of scandal." CRS addressed that concern, the NCBC reported, by adopting a mission statement that stated that while CRS sometimes worked with groups that reject Church teachings regarding the dignity of life, that cooperation should not be taken as an endorsement of those other groups.


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  • Posted by: aclune9083 - Jul. 25, 2012 9:25 PM ET USA

    The CRS board decided to proceed with the grant, even though it constitutes violation of the Church's clear teaching not to cooperate with evil, even if the evildoer states the intention to bring good from that particular cooperation. The CRS mission statement affirms its intention to decide how to spend the money donated by the Catholic faithful,regardless of whether or not the recipient supports the Church's teachings. I will no longer support CRS until they clean up their act.

  • Posted by: jpthegr82109 - Jul. 25, 2012 7:27 PM ET USA

    Here is what I wrote on the CRS website: "CRS must find a way not to enable some of the most progressive organizations involved in promoting the Culture of Death. The arguments offered regarding "formal cooperation with evil" would enable you to work with many organizations that are doing enormous work of grave evil. There are other ways to reach people who need food and water other than CARE. In order to get large sums of Catholic funds and legitimize themselves, all the abortion pushing...

  • Posted by: bruno - Jul. 25, 2012 7:25 PM ET USA

    In which case, let US recommend that CRS not approve a grant to CARE in the future! Certainly there are other groups capable of providing water and sanitation to poor areas in the Americas?

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Jul. 25, 2012 6:07 PM ET USA

    I am 'gravely concerned' that dollars I have given in good faith to CRS to support corporal and spiritual works of mercy in line with Catholic teaching have been misused. To show such callous disregard for the sanctity of human life and to funnel Catholic dollars to organizations that support abortion (remember abortion includes dismembering human babies who have an immortal soul while they are still alive). May God have mercy on the souls of those who participate in this evil.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 25, 2012 4:24 PM ET USA

    Could I just point out that CRS has said all along that Dr. Haas warned us about the possibility, even the probability of theological scandal. He offered suggestions CRS could take to minimize it. Despite LifeSite News' claim that he advised against the grant, it is clear in Dr. Haas' statement that he did no such thing. In fact, he made no recommendation, leaving the decision to the CRS Board.