I had the privilege last month of hearing a talk from Dr. Carolyn Woo, the president of Catholic Relief Services, in which she highlighted the collaborative efforts of CRS across the world as it helps to alleviate global poverty. CRS, an organization that has inspired me for many years, is the official international development agency of the Catholic Church in the US. It’s always a source of my Catholic pride whenever my non-Catholic friends and acquaintances who work in development speak highly of CRS, admiring its professionalism and effectiveness. Woo explained that CRS is able to do so much good work because it forms partnerships as frequently as possible, often with local organizations, to avoid duplicating efforts and to bring services directly to those who need them most.
So it was surprising and disappointing when I read that CRS is under attack from within the church. From US Catholic:
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official international humanitarian relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops, is coming under fire for an item that someone recently dug up in its 2010 financial reports. CRS gave $5.3 million to a humanitarian organization called CARE which was used for water and sanitation programs in Central America and for food and nutrition programs in Africa.
So what's the problem? Even though it was in no way related to the projects that CRS funded, CARE also supports family planning--including access to contraceptives--as part of its efforts to reduce poverty and injustice, particularly towards women. Critics are now saying that CRS is undermining the teachings of the church and the bishops by working with CARE to provide clean water and food to developing communities. According to that logic, since Melinda Gates also supports family planning for impoverished countries, anyone who buys Microsoft products is going against church teaching.
CRS replied quickly, noting that the funds distributed to CARE would not have been able to support anything that violates church teaching. What is going on in the church when an organization committed to alleviating poverty, to living out the Gospel call, is criticized and accused of negligence by fellow Catholics? Showing support to CRS and similar organizations when they come under attack by right-wing Catholics is essential.