Give the gift of LIFE! Support the Population Research Institute!


Catholic Relief Services Compromises Catholic Teaching, Promotes Population Control/Family Planning in Madagascar

The First in a Series of Reports on Catholic Relief Services: Why CRS Needs to Extricate Itself from USAID Population Control/Family Planning Projects Once and For All

MADAGASCAR — A PRI investigation of Catholic Relief Services of Madagascar has revealed that CRS is using funding from American Catholics to distribute contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices in concert with some of the world’s biggest population control/family planning organizations. The investigation documents a long-standing pattern of complicity and cooperation in such programs committed by Catholic Relief Services of Madagascar ranging from the actions of high-level administrators down to local level employees in rural areas. We believe that these serious ongoing structural abuses require a fundamental reform of the way Catholic Relief Services is organized, raises funds, and carries out its programs.  

There is a fundamental contradiction between CRS’ claimed identity as “the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States” and its involvement, both passively and actively, in programs abroad which run directly contrary to Catholic teaching. While African bishops complain bitterly about CRS’ activities in their dioceses, CRS sanctimoniously touts its adherence to Catholic teaching in its fundraising appeals to American Catholics.

“No man can serve two masters.” Yet, CRS currently receives over two-thirds  approximately 70% — of its annual revenue from the U.S. government, mostly through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). As is well known, USAID’s agenda includes population control, abortion-on-demand, sterilization, and contraception. And as far as USAID is concerned, CRS is just one more nongovernmental organization (NGO) that it funds with these objectives in mind.

The onerous conditions that USAID imposes on CRS in return for its financial support compel CRS to distance itself from Church teaching, no less from the institutional Church itself, in its programmatic activities overseas.  At the same time, anxious not to jeopardize the 30 percent of its revenues that it receives from unwitting American Catholics through the good offices of the American bishops, CRS puts on a Catholic face at home.

On the Ground in Madagascar

USAID-affiliated NGO’s, including CRS, have divided up aid in Madagascar by local administrative districts called “communes.” Each NGO is responsible for providing “the whole package of health activities,” including contraceptive and abortifacient drugs and devices, in the communes to which they have been assigned.   

For its part, Catholic Relief Services is responsible for implementing “health activities” in 125 communes. As an “implementing health partner” with USAID, CRS must ensure the provision of contraception and abortifacients to Malagasy citizens in its communes. Population Research Institute investigators have confirmed that the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients by CRS health workers within their communes to be a systemic problem in Madagascar.

Local USAID officials interviewed in Madagascar confirmed that CRS does “the same work” in family planning as its secular counterparts. Aid is distributed in the communes via Community Health Workers (CHWs). Community Health Workers are volunteers who receive informal compensation and a percentage of the money they collect for selling contraceptives.

These officials, as well as others interviewed, testified that CRS Community Health Workers received the same training as all other USAID-funded NGO health workers, and that structural mechanisms were in place to ensure that all health workers used and promoted the same family planning programs, regardless of their NGO associations.

“We, the USAID technical specialists, are there for that, precisely to assure that the implementers from the different consortium members are using the same approach,” said Jean Patrick Bourahimou, a program manager for USAID-SantéNet.  “For us, there’s nothing special with CRS: CRS works in family planning just like the others.”

Interviews with multiple CRS officials in Tamatave (English: Toamasina) City confirmed that this practice is the rule, not the exception. As one zone supervisor for CRS said, “We all [NGOs] do the same work, including in the area of family planning.”

Catholic Relief Services has hundreds of Community Health Workers who, under the name of Catholic Relief Services, distribute contraceptives in Madagascar. Community Health Workers fall into two categories: those who provide “basic services” (condoms, pills, and referrals) and those who provide “advanced services” (injectable contraceptives — implanon and depo provera). CRS has over 250 Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the states (regions) of Atsinanana and Androy alone who provide injectable contraceptives.[1]  

CARE is also in Madagascar, and also receives USAID funding. Like CRS, CARE is also exclusively responsible for a certain number of communes, and its Community Health Workers provide the same kind of services that CRS Community Health Workers provide. But unlike CRS, CARE openly discusses its commitment to family planning in Madagascar on its website: “In Madagascar…. when [the initiative] began, contraceptive prevalence rate was about 11 percent, with traditional and modern methods combined—well below the national average of 27 percent. A mere 12 months later, 24 percent of women of reproductive age in the project area were using a modern method to plan their families.” [2]

One wonders how many women CRS’ Community Health Workers have chemically sterilized over the same time period. Or, to put it another way, how many children have been aborted or contracepted out of existence by CRS?

CRS should be able to tell us a number. After all, all NGOs are required to submit periodic reports to USAID on their performance in increasing the “contraceptive prevalence rate.”

As a result of its long-term collaboration with USAID, Catholic Relief Services-Madagascar has, in effect, lost its Catholic identity. It is just one more secular humanitarian organization funded by USAID. This is nowhere better illustrated than on the business cards that PRI investigators collected from CRS and CARE officials alike: CRS officials had the CARE logo on their business cards, while CARE officials with the CRS logo on theirs. (See business card on right.) Catholic Relief Services Care USAID contraception RANO HamPivoatra Project UNFPA rural access new opportunities health prosperity

Finally, we note that the head of the Catholic Relief Services Tamatave regional office, Andry Ramamonjisoa, was previously employed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  As Mr. Ramamonjisoa noted, “Before this [CRS], I worked with UNFPA, mainly dealing with family planning.”

Surely this man’s history was known to the CRS-Madagascar director when he was hired and posed no obstacle to his employment. In fact, we would guess that his experience in running population control programs for the UN was probably viewed as an asset. After all, CRS was accepting funding from USAID to carry out a family planning/population control program, and it needed to convince USAID of its seriousness of purpose. What better way than to hire a UN Population Fund expert—a self-described Catholic who obviously disagrees with the Church’s teachings on the life issues—to run it?

But the real question is this: Why would an ostensibly “Catholic” organization decide to carry out such an objectively immoral program to begin with? Was it the money? Was it pressure from USAID? Was it the progressive abandonment of its Catholic identity in favor of a comforting and undemanding view of itself as being merely one more secular humanitarian relief agency?

The Catholic Church teaches hard truths, to be sure, but those individuals and organizations who would call themselves “Catholic” are duty-bound to abide by them. Population Research Institute hopes that this report, the first in a series of reports on our investigations around the world, will be of assistance to the American bishops in carrying out much-needed reforms at Catholic Relief Services.


Keep track of all CRS media coverage here.

Read our full report of the CRS investigation here.


[1] Christiane Wiskow, et al.  “An Assessment of Community Health Volunteer Program Functionality in Madagascar.” January 2013. <>.

[2] Catholic Relief Services. “2012 Annual Report.” <>.

Comments are closed on this post.

Recent Posts

Never miss an update!

Get our Weekly Briefing! We send out a well-researched, in-depth article on a variety of topics once a week, to large and growing English-speaking and Spanish-speaking audiences.