by Bill Scholl
It’s Rice Bowl time again . . . when families concretely practice almsgiving during Lent by collecting their coins and dollars for Catholic Relief Services.
But like a bad penny, some Internet groups have returned with allegations that were thoroughly countered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just last year.
It is sad in this Year of Mercy that Catholics would attack a charity that each year helps over 100 million people in over 100 countries in the poorest regions of the world.
While the criticisms of those who oppose CRS are too long to go into here, they basically amount to this: guilt by association.
As our conscience becomes enlightened, there is much in the modern world which becomes, or ought to become, morally repugnant. While we are right to abhor things like abortion and coercive contraception, we must be careful as Christians when we are tempted to look for reasons to not practice the works of mercy.
CRS stands accused of violating Catholic moral teaching because they have collaborated with secular organizations that don’t share all of our Catholic values.
The church makes a distinction about remote, material and formal cooperation with evil. Without those distinctions, we could not pay taxes or even shop at many stores. In Catholic teaching, there are ways to associate and work with sinners, without sharing in their sin. Jesus, himself, models this.
CRS goes to the poorest areas of the world to help families lift themselves out of poverty: building wells, giving HIV treatments and teaching sustainable agriculture. To do this, they work with all kinds of groups. However, every partnership is carefully vetted by the bishops, along with eight other watchdog groups to ensure that CRS maintains its Catholic integrity.
For Catholics who are tempted to spread criticism, we must be extra careful in this area of complaint — because CRS saves lives: It is important to remember the gravity of the situation. Through CRS, the Catholic Church is building wells and feeding people. If that doesn’t happen, some people will die. This, too, is a pro-life issue. It is very easy for us to argue from a rich nation about whether the church should partner with governments and groups that aren’t 100 percent pro-life.
Meanwhile, a mother suffers, watching her child die of dehydration. The bishops monitor all partnerships to ensure the work is done ethically, but our first concern is helping people to live another day. Nobody will care how much we know until they know how much we care.
Do a work of mercy yourself: Encourage critics to go online to CRS.org and/or contact the archdiocesan office for social justice to get all the facts. As well, give generously to the collection this year.