Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute is a pro-life rock star.
I’ve never seen a guy work harder to dig in and identify every detail of corruption going on within putatively Catholic organizations, document it, and expose it. It’s often thankless work. It isn’t always well-received by bishops, and certainly not by staffers at large Catholic bureaucratic institutions like the USCCB, where the oversight for organizations like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is supposed to happen.
His exposés of CRS in particular have been devastating over the years. Look at all the insanity he’s dug up on just that one organization right here.
And now, he’s heading up a new initiative that is going to make their shady activities even more difficult to keep under cover. Following his report exposing how CRS had a referral network in parts of Africa that included Planned Parenthood associates, Hichborn launched a campaign this month urging the US Congress to “investigate Catholic Relief Services (CRS) for violation of US Federal Policy forbidding aid money from going to organizations which advocate for abortion.”
There is a petition at www.InvestigateCRS.com where signatures are being gathered. A number of prominent Catholic figures have already signed, myself included. Unlike other petitions, the numbers on this one actually matter. If they can gather 100,000 signatures in 30 days (by June 25th), policy dictates that the White House will address the petition with an official statement, offering additional publicity and momentum to the initiative. The petition as of this writing has nearly 2,000 signatures.
According to a recent communication I received about the initiative:
The Mexico City Policy requires those receiving federal grant money for overseas development not to “furnish health assistance under this award to any foreign non-governmental organization that performs or actively promotes abortion,” and the Siljander Amendment states that “none of the funds made available under [the appropriations act] may be used to lobby for or against abortion.”
The petition explains: “A recent investigation by the Lepanto Institute has uncovered strong evidence that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has directly violated this policy in Cameroon (KIDSS Project) and in Nigeria (SMILE Project) by providing federal aid money to organizations that actively promote abortion. A Federal investigation is necessary for determining if CRS is in violation of these policies.”
If you’re like me, you’re more than a little bit sick and tired of the games played by these ostensibly Catholic organizations, especially insofar as they tend to have deep pockets and close relationships with the bishops.
We want to be able to trust organizations like CRS, which is the official overseas Aid and Development agency of the USCCB. The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, but its efforts have long been tainted by various associations that are decidedly anti-Catholic in their practices and policies.
I’ve known Michael Hichborn for years now, and have worked directly with him at various times. I consider him a friend, and I know that the relentless work he is doing is a vital (though often unheralded) aspect of rooting out corruption in the Church. It may not get as much attention as sex abuse scandals or the misuse of Peter’s Pence, but it’s still incredibly significant.
I reached out to him to ask what makes this particular initiative special, and whether he thinks it has a reasonable prospect of success. This is what he had to say:
For the last couple of years, we have been calling on the bishops of the United States to convene a third-party, independent investigation into CRS projects – especially those related to HIV and AIDS. Unfortunately, the bishops have been satisfied with allowing the agency being charged with moral corruption to investigate itself and find itself innocent of the charges, and then they just parrot the talking points handed to them by the same agency. Well, if the bishops won’t do the right thing, then the next step is to get the government involved. After all, they are taking massive amounts of federal funds to perform these projects, and if they aren’t following proper federal and moral guidelines, then they should have those funds stripped away.
I know there are at least 100,000 pro-lifers (Catholic or otherwise) out there who believe that organizations that violate the Mexico City Policy should be investigated and denied funding if found guilty. It’s this knowledge that gives us great hope that we will reach our goal by the end of the month.
When I asked him why petition-weary Catholics should take the time to sign this one when they’re being inundated with petitions all the time, he said:
I hear from people all the time that petitions don’t work, and people are just sick to death of signing petitions. What makes this initiative different is that there is a very real goal with real results to be attained if we reach that goal. As a White House Petition, we are promised an official update from the White House if we attain 100,000 signatures within 30 days. If we reach that goal, great! If we get the attention of just ONE courageous congressman who is willing to simply take a look and ask some serious questions, even better! But either way, we need numbers to get that attention that we need.
It’s up to you whether you sign it, but I’d very much like to see the White House take this one on. I’m sure the bigwigs at CRS and the USCCB are not too excited about a Congressional investigation, and that thought alone makes it worth doing.
If you’re ready to sign, just go to www.InvestigateCRS.com and click the button that says “sign the petition.”
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.