This is intended to be a response to donors who may be concerned about accusations against Salesian Missions that have appeared online. These attacks are malicious in nature and contain absurd information.
Unfortunately, anyone can publish anything on the Internet and there is little recourse when something is not accurate. Therefore, we all have to exercise caution to try and determine what is legitimate and what is not. We are thankful for this opportunity to clarify things.
Please be assured that the program in question is in line with Catholic teachings, as are all Salesian programs around the globe.
Salesian missionaries do operate an NGO in Cape Town, South Africa called Life Choices. Salesian Missions is a separate U.S.-based nonprofit organization that raises funds and secures grant funding for Salesian-run programs around the globe. In 2005, the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs began working to help secure funding for Life Choices from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). This is the limit to the connection between Life Choices and Salesian Missions. No donor contributions have ever been distributed to this program.
As the HIV/AIDS spread to epic proportions, the South African government invited the Salesians to participate in prevention programs. The reason their inclusion was sought was because of their proven model of abstinence education. Without the involvement of the Salesians, it is quite possible that this message would not have been made available to young people. However, the “reports” that have been attacking Life Choices do not capture the true nature of the program. They also contain fabrications such as placing a Salesian Missions logo where it does not belong—which is not only deceitful but violates trademark law.
The information presented in both the so-called “reports” and the subsequent online articles is misleading and contain serious inaccuracies. One error was caused by a data defect in a 7-year-old government document cited by the critic. Life Choices never distributed condoms. The number on the table in question is actually the number of youth who received abstinence education. Here is a letter from the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa (who authored the government document) indicating it was a data entry error and apologizing for the harm it has caused.
The intent of the critic seems to be to alarm rather than inform. As a result, the Life Choices program is purposely mischaracterized to fabricate a scandal. For example, there are also a number of instances where the critic’s report states a behavior is being “promoted” in an educational material or training manual, when in fact it simply states a medical or other fact from a third-party source. For counselors working with at-risk populations in a country that has been hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, this information is not only essential, but a matter of life or death. They work with young people to encourage them to make better decisions. The goal is to move them toward morality and abstinence, which is the best line of defense against contracting the horrifying disease plaguing their country. To carry out this work effectively, these counselors must first gain the trust of the youth, which means listening and talking about a variety of concerns they may have. This educational approach not only conforms with Catholic ethos, but is also in line with the true spirit of our founder St. John “Don” Bosco—with its focus on reason, religion and loving kindness.
The critic’s reports use content from a specific training manual to launch attacks against the Salesians. The curriculum in this manual was developed by the Center for the Support of Peer-Education, an institution linked to Harvard University. This manual itself belongs is a product of the Department of Health, Global Fund and 14 other service providers (NGOs). Between 2011 and 2012, Salesian Life Choices became the abstinence partner for this initiative. The training manual was then customized by the Life Choices program, to make sure it was in adherence with not only their approach but also Catholic teachings. In light of concerns, the content of the manual as well as all other program collateral is being carefully reviewed and edited (if deemed necessary) to prevent future misunderstandings.
These are only some examples of how the online attacks against the Salesians are full of inaccuracies and exaggerations.
We are not alone in our concern over the matter. The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops published a warning about the group behind these attacks. The statement included:
“We want to make it clear that those making these public critiques, albeit, we hope, in good faith, do not speak for the Catholic Church and we advise the Catholic faithful to exercise caution … before endorsing or giving credence to the groups’ critiques.”
Additionally, here are two examples of articles from trustworthy Catholic news sources that also expressed concern:
National Catholic Reporter: Bishops Must Respond to Attacks
American Magazine (American Catholic Review): When the righteous attack
We join with these concerns and warn our benefactors to use caution when making donations or reviewing information presented on the Internet.
We urge our donors to be very vigilant and always make sure an organization is an accredited source of news and information and, when donations are involved, to make sure they are legitimate nonprofit organization. We are informing our donors that Guidestar.org is a great source to research the legitimacy of an organization’s nonprofit status. To research Catholic news sites, the Catholic Press Association member lists an excellent resource.