Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maybe I was hard on CRS and the USCCB, but I am not smart enough to say I was wrong yet

On Tuesday I posted regarding funds donated by CRS to CARE.  I based the post on an article by Michelle Bauman of Catholic News Agency.

Yesterday, I noticed on Twitter that @CRSnews was making an effort to respond to the criticism, continuing to defend its contribution to CARE.  Engaging in the "tweeting", I was told by @CRSnews to read a statement by John Haas (stressing "in his own words") of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBS), which did an ethical analyses of the grant for CRS.  Although helpful, I did not (and still do not) believe that the statement was a ringing endorsement of the transaction(s) in question.

In fact, in John Haas' "own words";

The NCBC concluded that great care was taken by CRS to see that funds were used only for the purposes designated, i.e., assisting the poor, the malnourished, and the starving.  
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.

He goes on to say that some clarifications were made to the CRS Mission Statement and concluded with "CRS obviously assumes the responsibility for the grants which it awards."

Later, I was directed by someone (whose opinion on such matters I respect) to review an article by Brandon Vogt (no known relation).

While I had already seen the documentation which Brandon presented in the article, he certainly offered a thorough review of such.

I strongly encourage you to read his article and the comments and follow-ups as well.

However, I am personally still having a hard time buying the whole fungibility argument. Maybe CARE can't transfer funding directly, but the analogy given (in Brandon's article)of the $10 to the street guy who uses the money for alcohol instead of food does not seem fit (in my opinion).

A more accurate analogy would seem to be someone (CARE) who receives $10 in food stamps. They use the $10 food stamps for food. However, now they have this $10 that someone else gave them. They were trying to decide if they would use the $10 (or some of it) on food and the rest on alcohol. Now they don't have to make the choice. They can have both.

Maybe I'm too dumb for my own good, but it sure does not smell good when the bishops are fighting Obama on a comparable subject.

If you are smart enough to convince me that there's no way receiving funds from CRS helped CARE in other areas, please take a shot.  Really.  I would love to make my wife happy and admit publicly that I was wrong.


  1. George,

    Thank you for your willingness to grapple with this issue, and in particular, thank you for reading Dr. Haas’ statement for yourself.

    I work at Catholic Relief Services, and I’ll take a crack at responding to your question about why the money given to CARE can’t be used (or free up money) for contraception programs. Your question is the most common one we’re getting here at CRS.

    I think Dr. Haas said it well when he wrote, “Some have said that CRS was incapable of restricting the use of their funds to the good works which were being done by CARE. Money used for those good works would “free up” funds to be used for immoral purposes. However, the grants given by CRS do not go into some general pool of funds that can be moved around or used for other purposes. This would be in violation of the grant agreement and of federal law, specifically the Code of Federal Regulations 226, which requires that federal funds going to non-governmental entities can only be used for the purposes for which they are given. The NCBC concluded that great care was taken by CRS to see that funds were used only for the purposes designated, i.e., assisting the poor, the malnourished, and the starving.”

    But let me add a bit more. Because of the Code of Federal Regulations 226 mentioned above, if CARE were to use the federal money it received in any way that violated those terms, there would be serious legal ramifications for them. That part of the grant that came from a private foundation was governed by a contract that specified its use. To use those funds for any other purpose would violate the terms of the contract, and the funds would have to be returned.

    That addresses the question of why they couldn’t just use the grant money – which was specifically for food and water programs in Africa and Latin America – for contraceptives. I think most people get that. But what about the idea that it freed up existing CARE money for those food and water programs that could then be shifted to unrelated contraception programs?

    Here is some background information that may help. That concern could only take place if the CRS money were replacing current CARE funding for those programs. However, the programs the grants funded weren’t in place. There was no CARE budget for them. Since these were new programs with no CARE budget, there was no money they could shift to contraceptives when receiving the grant money from CRS. In fact, if CRS hadn’t passed on the grant money to CARE, those specific programs wouldn’t have been implemented by CARE and a lot of people would have been without important and life-saving assistance.

    Please know that CRS is very careful about these kinds of things, which is why we had NCBC review our relationship with CARE in the first place. Our primary concern is saving lives, and seeing that we could do so by giving the grant to CARE, knowing that the money could only be used for those food and water programs and not free up money for contraceptives, we chose the option that would save lives while not producing other harm.

    On a personal note, I wouldn’t want to work for an organization who had an opportunity to save people’s lives and do no other harm but decided not to simply because they were worried that some people might misunderstand and object.

    I hope that helps to clarify. I wish you well as you come to your own conclusions about this issue, and again, thank you for your honest grappling with it.

    All the best,
    Jim Stipe

  2. Jim, thanks for your charitable response. While I still had to mull the whole thing over many times, I think I get it. I say so publicly in this morning's post.