BALTIMORE — Allegations that Catholic Relief Services used sex education materials in Rwanda that violated church teaching on human sexuality are unfounded, the agency said.
CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and develop agency, conducted an internal investigation concerning allegations raised by Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute charging that CRS used the publication, “My Changing Body: Puberty and Fertility Awareness for Young People,” which he said promotes abortifacient contraception, masturbation and condom use.
In a Feb. 6 statement, CRS said it examined project documents and interviewed staff in Rwanda who worked for CRS in 2009 and 2010 and were partners with a Georgetown University project that promoted sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage to combat the spread of AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus. CRS said it found “no evidence that the objectionable passages Lepanto Institute emphasized in the Georgetown document called ‘My Changing Body’ were ever used in conjunction with CRS’ activities in Rwanda.”
Responding to allegations, CRS said it did “not collaborate with Planned Parenthood” nor did it “promote or ‘normalize’ masturbation for teenagers.” The agency said it also “did not promote or encourage the use of condoms or other forms of birth control” and it did not “‘normalize’ homosexuality.”
Hichborn had cited a 2011 report from Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Health that said CRS, Caritas Rwanda and Family Health International were partners in revising and piloting a sex education program for children 10- to 14-years-old using “My Changing Body.” Funding for the program came through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The Lepanto Institute describes itself on its website as “a research and education organization dedicated to the defense of the Catholic Church against assaults from without as well as from within.”
Caritas Rwanda and the Georgetown University representatives in Rwanda confirmed that there were collaborative efforts among CRS, Georgetown, diocesan facilitators, and priests to adapt “My Changing Body” to conform to Catholic teaching.
The bishop from Rwanda’s Butare Diocese, where the project was implemented, also confirmed that in 2009 and 2010, parish priests and diocesan facilitators worked in close collaboration with CRS and Georgetown to adapt “My Changing Body” materials to ensure that all activities were consistent with Catholic teaching.
CRS said its own program, “Avoiding Risk, Affirming Life,” spread the message in Rwanda that abstinence and fidelity were the best and only sure methods of stemming the spread of HIV. The program, which ran from 2005 to 2010, was carried out with Caritas Rwanda. CRS conducted research with Georgetown in direct partnership with dioceses to adapt materials to a Catholic context for Rwandans.