- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2015

Two Virginia pro-life organizations say a Catholic international charity has been promoting contraception in a Kenya program — and rebuffing their attempts to get American bishops to intervene.

In response, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said the allegations “unravel quickly” and a federal report that initially misrepresented its work has been corrected.

A “conscience clause” in the federal government’s anti-AIDS funding program “protect[s] our ability to work in accord with Catholic teaching,” CRS said in a lengthy statement.

At a Tuesday press conference at the National Press Club, leaders of the Population Research Institute (PRI) and Lepanto Institute released a 56-page report that investigated CRS’ participation in AIDS-prevention programs with youth in Kenya in fiscal 2012.

A program called “Healthy Choices,” which has versions for younger and older teens, is at issue because it discusses how to avoid AIDS by “abstaining from sex or using other risk-reduction strategies.”

CRS won a $3.8 million grant from the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Kenya. Proper and consistent use of condoms is a major AIDS prevention strategy; however, Catholic teaching forbids promotion of condoms, contraceptives and products that might induce an abortion.

“CRS must explain to its Catholic donors why, according to the numerous Kenyans we interviewed, it funds, oversees and monitors programs which endorse contraceptive use,” Steven Mosher, president of Front Royal, Va.-based PRI, said Tuesday.

In 2013, PRI issued a report documenting “similar abuses” under CRS programs in Madagascar, Mr. Mosher said. The goal is for CRS to enact “credible reforms” to ensure that such abuses never happen again, he said.
Michael Hichborn, president of the Lepanto Institute in Partlow, Va., said their Kenya report was based on official government documents, plus independent corroboration from CRS’ “implementing partners” in Kenya, and an “on-the-ground field investigator” who visited the programs for a few weeks.

When PRI and Lepanto officials approached Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the board of directors for CRS, about some of their findings last year, their requests for a meeting were rebuffed.

Instead, they received a letter saying PEPFAR had erroneously suggested that CRS was involved with the condom-promotion part of the programs.
“This was not the case,” said the letter from Archbishop Coakley’s office. “CRS met with PEPFAR in Nairobi a few months ago and PEPFAR apologized for its error and has since corrected the report.”

Mr. Mosher and Mr. Hichborn are not mollified by this response. But CRS said Tuesday that the PRI-Lepanto report’s claims are “misleading, exaggerated and untrue” and “attacks our faithful, life-saving efforts to respond to HIV and AIDS in Africa.”

CRS has used PEPFAR’s “conscience clause” to modify Healthy Choices I for younger teens, and did not use some sections of Healthy Choices II with older teens because “they were deemed inappropriate,” the international charity said. “No CRS project funds were ever used to purchase or distribute condoms or artificial contraception.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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