HLI’s Position on Reports of CRS and Contraceptives in the DRC

Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.  (Caritas In Veritate, n. 28)

In this and in many other passages, in perfect harmony with his predecessors and with Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI underlines that the respect for life cannot in any way be detached from what the Catholic Church calls authentic, integral human development. The Church continues to teach this essential truth because we know that the poor in various parts of the world have been targeted for decades with population control – contraception, sterilization, and abortion. In economically developed countries, there is a radical anti-birth mentality, which is exported to other nations as if it were a form of cultural, economic, and social progress. In addition, many private institutions, NGOs, and governments consider development and population control as symbiotic – linking legitimate development aid to the imposition of birth/population control. Their verbal engineers call this “sustainable development.”

HLI has confronted this situation since our inception and, in collaboration with the local Catholic Church and international pro-life leaders, continues to fight this radical mentality that attacks the inalienable dignity of the human person. What makes things more difficult and scandalous is when we learn of anti-life agencies working with the support of the Catholic Church, directly or indirectly.

Since I became president of HLI in 2011, we have attempted to work with leaders at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the bishops on its board of directors to resolve the situation and strengthen CRS’s mission and work. HLI has respectfully sought the path of subsidiarity in this conversation, attempting to avoid further scandal to the faithful who want assurance that CRS is acting in accord with Church teaching. Sadly, our attempts have produced no fruit. Instead, we have often been marginalized and shut out of the conversation by those who are deeply invested in the secular development model or who believe that such problems could not occur.

It saddens me that the Lepanto Institute has again found a clear case of CRS disregarding its moral obligation to ensure that those receiving funding are in compliance with Church teaching. This public disagreement was not HLI’s first choice, but given our mission, and the very high stakes both for the Church and for those who are harmed by these programs, we cannot in good conscience be silent.

With the latest Lepanto Institute report, faithful Catholics also have a responsibility. You didn’t ask for this responsibility, and you may want this scandal to simply go away. But it will not go away as long as the status quo remains. Those who are concerned but don’t know what to think are put in the unfortunate position of having to do some research and not simply resort to ideological “camps” who simply take their own side’s word as fact.

To put our cards on the table: we at HLI are convinced that CRS has been caught several times implementing projects that are not only utterly incompatible with Catholic social and moral doctrine, but are also destructive for those supposedly “helped.” Challenged on these reports, CRS routinely misleads the bishops and its supporters, issuing denials that assume great ignorance on the part of the reader as to how these complicated projects occur. Further, when such challenges are raised, CRS attacks the messenger’s motives and credibility, dragging good bishops into the fray with statements that are untrue.

This is our position, but again, we do not ask you to take a side in this scandal (sadly, yes, there are now sides) based merely on a short position statement. In order to understand, more work must be done.

Many say that to understand what’s going on one must “follow the money.” Surely the funding is relevant, but that’s different than proving the case, so one should also not draw a conclusion on this alone. Still, it is worth asking: Who has more at stake in this battle?

CRS receives hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the federal government, and tens of millions more annually from massive NGOs who not only disagree with the Church on these matters, but also together invest billions annually opposing the Church. CRS receives over 80% of its huge annual budget from a government and organizations that believe population control is the primary development priority today, and these organizations don’t hide this—they don’t think they have to. CRS then receives about 3% of its annual income from the Rice Bowl and other pew collections from Catholics, though Catholics certainly give more via other fundraising channels.

By way of contrast, the party exposing the government documents showing CRS’s participating in this destructive program, the Lepanto Institute, made less than $100,000 last year. Population Research Institute has also initiated previous investigations and, like HLI, has publicly expressed its concern about CRS when private outreach has failed. To our knowledge PRI’s annual budget is less than half that of the lone project that is the subject of the latest controversy. Same with HLI, as much as I wish it were different!

It is our mission at HLI to preach the Gospel of Life around the world, focusing on education, outreach and advocacy. This is why we are reluctantly involved in this debate: Most of the over 80 nations in which we and our partners are currently engaged are in the developing world, and suffer greatly from the imposition of population control programs disguised as legitimate development and health concerns. That’s how the multi-billion dollar aid and development industry works. It’s also why the NGOs who comprise it have such enormous budgets and so little to show for their decades of work: If the intention was to see these nations develop rather than remain dependent on wealthier nations with their own designs, then those responsible for decades of fruitless efforts would have been replaced long ago.

Sadly, though we believe most in the aid industry do indeed have good intentions, the point of the industry is not to succeed and thus put itself out of business, but rather to keep itself in business by perpetuating the corruption of governments that are unaccountable to their own people, but very responsive to massively funded Western development efforts. It’s economics 101: when your revenue is not tied to the productivity and genuine progress of your own people, but rather is tied to complying with the directives of wealthy parties who have their own priorities, you will never see authentic, integral development.

To the most recent case, then: documents published by the federal government show CRS as an implementing partner in a six million dollar project in the Democratic Republic of Congo; a project whose stated goal was to improve maternal and child health. Not one single person who knows how these projects work would deny that they entail birth/population control as a matter of course. This one was no different — requiring detailed quarterly reports of the receipt and storage of contraception (including abortifacient methods), as well as measurement of the program’s effectiveness in getting more women to use various methods of artificial birth control. The project’s reports show Catholic Relief Services receiving, storing, and helping to distribute 2.25 million units of contraceptives, then reporting the program’s “success” in getting almost 850,000 people to use the methods in the region for which CRS had responsibility.

No one disputes these facts.

CRS has, however, issued a response asking bishops to ignore the Lepanto Institute’s report and direct pastors to support CRS. In its statement of “refutation,” CRS ironically does not even attempt to refute a single charge. They simply, categorically, deny that they had anything to do with any element that was against Church teaching, providing as proof a letter from the sponsoring agency’s director, who says that CRS was clear on this point.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds this an odd way to “refute” the carefully vetted reports from the same parner, in which they claimed the opposite.

The problem, CRS says, is that its sponsoring partner forgot that CRS insisted that it wouldn’t promote anything against Church teaching. Somehow the reporting partner mistakenly got the idea — after receiving CRS’s own quarterly reports — that CRS was itself storing, distributing, and measuring the acceptance of contraception among the targeted population in the region for which CRS was responsible, according to the documents.

Tellingly, CRS does not acknowledge in its response the video showing its project director (a medical doctor shown wearing a polo shirt with both USAID and CRS logos) describing the full range of the project’s concerns and its success in getting almost 850,000 people to use new methods of “family planning.” While this may be dealt with in a second response from CRS, the current strategy seems to include the hope that the bishops and you will not actually read the Lepanto Institute report or look at the government documents and video.

Again, I want to avoid questioning motives here and ask that you read both the Lepanto Institute report and CRS’s letter of response. If you are going to express an opinion on the matter, it should be an informed one.

To be perfectly honest, I find CRS’s explanations of its partner’s “errors” insulting (an explanation they rely on quite a bit in their explanations of previous problems), including the fact that they don’t address the majority of documented concerns before turning to attack the motives of CRS critics.

I also don’t want to participate in bashing the bishops on this. I think most would agree that a crucial element of accountability is missing when the only means of verifying claims of wrongdoing is through the agency accused, but I understand the desire to trust and how limited resources can inhibit such accountability. When this does not happen, the faithful who see and understand the problem will fill the gap, out of love for the Church, and they do not deserve to have their characters and motives maligned. This is a further injustice that requires immediate remedy.

As a confessor, I have been blessed to share the Lord’s mercy with penitents who, caught in a situation of their own choosing, hit bottom and seek reconciliation. Our Lord’s mercy is bigger than any problem we’ve gotten ourselves into, and we avail ourselves of His mercy when we turn back to Him in truth, ask for forgiveness, and firmly resolve to amend our lives. Returning to truth can be incredibly painful, but it is a necessary step for healing to begin. Without this honest and crucial step, problems fester, putting souls at risk.

The Church, led by her faithful shepherds, certainly has a role in evangelizing and working for authentic, integral human development. We sincerely want to help them resolve this scandal that is being perpetrated by an organization that is acting in their name. We at HLI remain ready to consult with any bishops who do not understand how the development industry operates and are looking for ways to engage in this essential work without these problems continuing to recur. Let us go forward together in both charity and truth and end this ongoing scandal.

About Fr. Shenan J. Boquet

Fr. Shenan J. Boquet has served as president of Human Life International since 2011. He was ordained in 1993 as a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana. As HLI’s president, Fr. Boquet collaborates with fellow laborers in the pro-life and family movement in over 80 countries, offering the Sacraments, giving seminars and trainings, appearing on numerous media outlets, and encouraging people of all walks of life to live as faithful advocates for a Culture of Life and Love. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing hli@hli.org.


  1. Susan Nemetz on October 22, 2016 at 7:28 PM

    I have been supporting CRS for a long time.My thought was that their response to tragedies such as earthquakes.floods. etc. as well as my understanding of their supposed development aids such as digging wells and teaching skills to the poor were more important than their connection with USAID. These are the things they always talk about. I’m wondering if I should withdraw my support,since they don’ t seem to have any intention of correcting matters.

  2. Mark on October 23, 2016 at 9:41 PM

    Doing social work does not equate to being Catholic. True Catholic social work is imbued with the love of Christ which knows no boundaries and is unfettered by human compromise. No matter what else a Catholic agency does or the motivation behind their actions can justify departure from the unerring and unchanging moral teaching of the Church. This is not splitting hairs. Allowing, let alone actively participating in the promotion of contraception and abortion, is a heinous act. In my estimation, such a lack of judgement precludes me from supporting CRS.

  3. Luke Washington on October 24, 2016 at 2:33 AM

    I have been a long-time supporter of CRS but stopped my monthly donations 3 months ago because, after researching the topic, I believe they did provide contraception to poor women in the Congo. As a Catholic I cannot support them, until they take corrective actions.

  4. Lorene on October 24, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Thank you, Fr. Bouquet, for this article. Because of HLI’s long-standing work in this arena, you can give a perspective that helps clarify the situation. Let’s pray for an appropriate resolution to this untenable situation.

  5. Adam Mary on October 24, 2016 at 1:37 PM

    Peace be with you; Individuals and organizations who are altering Christian Doctrine are committing Criminal Code, Constitutional and Tort law Violations. Their actions indicate a desire to force others to participate in their lifestyles, beliefs and behaviours which are disordered and a disorder cannot be a Right or Freedom. Subversion of Western Society by Liberals claiming to be inclusive when they are double minded and a double minded person is unstable in all their ways. Liberals are hedonists and do not regard the person of others outside of what may profit them; tendency to lying, gossip, backbiting, slander, false memory, hypochondria all behavioural traits of Liberals. Their double mindedness and other tendencies are exemplified in supporting conflicting ideologies claiming diversity. History has proven a servant cannot serve two masters. Engaging in Liberalism tends to fascism and dementia by constructs of the mind and environs.
    If you do not have a belly for the battle you better have one for bondage. The Cares and Riches of the World Choke the Word…Laodicean
    Happy Advent & Merry Christmas, God bless you…

  6. James on October 25, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    What concerns me is that these sorts of issues have been simmering for a number of years — i.e., the cozy interrelationship with Godless NGOs (e.g., The Gates’ Foundation, etc.) and Governmental Agencies (e.g., USAid, etc.) which are at odds with Catholic moral teaching and principles. A few other high-visibility concerns have been voiced over the past number of years as well.

    This most recent scandal should doom all further collaboration between our bishops, parishes, and CRS until THEY demonstrate that the problem has been resolved throughout the entire ministry.

    Since when is it the responsibility of donors, the bishops, and supporters to find out the truth of this matter? We’re not in a position, or equipped, to do that! It doesn’t work that way with charities. It is CRS’s duty to provide transparency in the matter and in its corrective measures. I suggest, to convince the rest of us, they go on a permanent, unapologetic PR Offensive throughout all their services, literature, and website of their orthodoxy on these immoral population control efforts. They’ll learn who their REAL friends are when these other agencies leave them high and dry within a decade or so. I don’t know for sure, but I doubt they’ll really bother.

    We stopped giving to CRS years ago; this recent scandal only vindicates that decision further. Too bad.

  7. TG on October 25, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    That is why I don’t give one dime to CRS or Campaign for Human Development. I also don’t give to the World Missions days. I’m not even giving to my diocese anymore. I only give to the parish and the majority of it to the building fund. I give individually to organizations I have checked out. That is why I do give a monthly donation to HLI. It’s sad to say but I don’t trust many in the Catholic Church anymore.

  8. Antonia on October 25, 2016 at 4:03 PM

    Thanks for this helpful article! Several months ago, our family read how CRS helped promote contraception in developing countries (there have been many other scandals such as this), and that the organization was unfaithful to Christ’s teachings in many other ways. This latest problem just underscores our decision to stop all our monthly donations to CRS, and not participate in the Rice Bowl collections during Lent. I hope to get our parish & the diocese of Dallas to server ties with CRS for these programs as well. We still want to donate for world poverty and disaster relief (as well as pro life and other efforts!), so we now give through the Knights of Columbus charities. KofC is usually a very faithful group and we believe they are a much more trustworthy organization. May God help CRS to change its ways!

  9. Mary Steckbeck on October 31, 2016 at 11:48 PM

    I have contributed to CRS for years and I was most discouraged when I read your letter,
    I will not contribute to CRS or support their functions until this issue is resolved.
    I do not have any doubt that this could happen, but CRS will lost many contributions due to the position they have chosen to take.

  10. Joanne on November 8, 2016 at 12:11 AM

    I share the same concerns.

    We have found satisfaction in sponsoring a child overseas through Unbound. https://www.unbound.org/ The packet was available after Mass one day. Nothing I have seen raises any red flags.

  11. Josephine Harkay on July 16, 2017 at 12:30 AM

    I am truly sorry that I cannot support CRS anymore; they are doing so many charitable works in underdeveloped countries. I believe they they are afraid to lose government funding should they follow Catholic moral principles re family planning.

  12. Karen Rotter on January 9, 2018 at 6:57 PM

    I don’t trust an organization whose employees, according to pubic records obtained by Lepanto, financially support Pro-Death Candidates by 98%—that doesn’t sound like a pro-life or Catholic organization to me!

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