Caritas Internationalis, which is the Vatican-run confederation of Catholic international aid and development agencies, is on the board of directors of The Sphere Project, whose central purpose is to promote a standard handbook for aid and development work. The handbook strongly advocates for the use of contraception, including so-called “emergency” contraceptives for victims of rape.
The Sphere Project says that it is:
a voluntary initiative that brings a wide range of humanitarian agencies together around a common aim – to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance and the accountability of humanitarian actors to their constituents, donors and affected populations.
The Sphere Handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, is one of the most widely known and internationally recognized sets of common principles and universal minimum standards in life-saving areas of humanitarian response.
Listed among some of the more notorious pro-abortion and pro-contraception international aid agencies (like CARE, InterAction, International Medical Corps, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision) Caritas Internationalis is a member of the Board of Directors.
In 1997, a small group of international aid and development agencies, including Caritas Internationalis, developed a set of minimum standards in core areas of humanitarian assistance. The primary outcome of the project was the publication of the handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. From the earliest iterations of this handbook, it has always promoted the use of contraception and condoms. Although there is a note in each edition which indicates that Caritas Internationalis and its member organizations do not support those sections of the handbook which promote contraception, the fact that Caritas promotes the handbook and remains on the governing body of the Sphere Project makes the note completely disingenuous.
Page 40 of the 2004 edition of the Handbook, under “Guidance notes,” says:
“Staff and field partners should know how to refer women, men and children seeking redress for human rights violations, and be familiar with procedures for referring survivors of rape and sexual violence for counselling, medical or contraceptive care.”
Page 283 states clearly that access to condoms and instruction on condom use is “essential” in disaster relief.
In 2011, the Sphere Project’s Handbook underwent a revision, expanding the 344-page manual to 402 pages. Three major Catholic aid organizations participated in this revision: Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, and Jesuit Refugee Service. Several pages of the handbook instruct the user to ensure access to contraception and condoms. For instance, beginning on page 325, under section 2.3, titled “Essential health services – sexual and reproductive health,” the Handbook states:
“All individuals, including those living in disaster-affected areas, have the right to reproductive health (RH). To exercise this right, affected populations must have access to comprehensive RH information and services to make free and informed choices.”
In support of this, the following three pages provide details on what this entails.
Page 326 not only states that contraception should be readily available, but that “comprehensive reproductive health services” (which include contraception) should be “integrated” into primary healthcare:
Page 327 explicitly calls for the provision of abortifacient emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence:
And, on page 328, under a section titled “Essential health services – sexual and reproductive health standard 2: HIV and AIDS,” the Handbook establishes a “minimum set” of services and products during disasters. Included in this set are “male and female condoms” and “contraceptives”:
As with the previous edition, one page contains a footnote, which amounts to an empty gesture, stating that “Caritas Internationalis and its Members do not promote the use of, or distribute any form of, artificial birth control.”
In 2012, two members of Caritas Internationalis (Trocaire and Catholic Relief Services) funded a “trainer of trainers” (ToT) workshop intended bring Sphere Trainers up to date on the new 2011 edition. In the image from the front cover of CRS’s report on this workshop, you can clearly see CRS’s banner, Trocaire’s banner, and a host of trainers holding the 2011 edition of the Handbook, which we just profiled.
While there is nothing in the report on this training workshop indicating the promotion of contraception in any way, the problem is that the Handbook specifically instructs users to promote contraception and condom use. In other words, it is the promotion of the use of the Handbook itself which is the problem, because the handbook establishes contraception as a “right.”
In addition to the 2012 training session, in 2014, CRS and several other organizations added the Sphere Handbook in Action e-learning course to their educational offerings. The Sphere Handbook in Action e-learning course aims to strengthen the effective use of the Sphere Handbook. Again, CRS’s training modules do not contain any promotion of contraception, but as with the 2012 training session, CRS is helping to promote a manual which contains gravely immoral matter.
Currently, CRS is working with several other organizations on revisions for the 2018 edition of the Sphere handbook.
As a member of Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services’ involvement in the production and promotion of the Sphere Project’s handbook isn’t surprising. In April of 2011, Caritas Internationalis co-hosted the launch of the Sphere Project’s 2011 edition of the Handbook in various locations around the world. Three months later, Alistair Dutton, Caritas’s Humanitarian Director, gave an interview about Caritas’ involvement with the Sphere Project. Dutton said:
Caritas was a founding member of the Sphere project and has always been a member of the Sphere board. Caritas helped draft the original standards and has been involved in every revision of the standards. The Sphere handbook is a normative document for all the member organisations of the Caritas confederation and we at Caritas Internationalis insist that all the Caritas members apply those standards.
Now with the new Sphere handbook, our next challenge will be to make sure that people within all the Caritas member organisations are trained and aware of the new standards.
This is just one more reason why it is so important for Catholic aid and development agencies to disentangle themselves from secular organizations that include contraception and abortion in their work. In a case such as this, it isn’t enough for Catholic agencies to claim in a footnote that they aren’t involved in the promotion or distribution of contraception when they not only had a hand in the creation of a handbook promoting such things, but also are involved in the promotion of the handbook itself. If Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, and other Catholic aid organizations truly want to win back the trust and support of pew-sitting Catholics, they are going to have to make some hard decisions, beginning with ending their relationships with the enemies of Christ, children, and souls.