In light of numerous cases, it is understandable that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) would insist on stringent standards to provide protection against the abuse of minors. But sometimes a questionable application of standards can have unintended harmful effects. That is the situation in a case that is now harming the poor, especially children, in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Forty years ago a humble missionary, Father Emil Cook, went to Honduras. As he saw firsthand the terrible conditions of the poor, especially children, he became a one person crusader to do something. During the forty years he formed an organization, APUFRAM, to carry out his vision of aiding others. APUFRAM (Spanish acronym for jAssociation of Franciscan Boys Towns and Girls Towns) would operate not only in Honduras but also the Dominican Republic and Liberia. The APUFRAM organization, comprised of people who had once been helped by Father Emil, became a missionary organization to help others aroung the world.
In early 2009, the good work of APUFRAM was jolted by the news of an alleged sexual abuse of a young girl in Liberia by one of the APUFRAM lay missionaries from Honduras. The incident was reported to Mission Honduras International (MHI), the US funding arm for APUFRAM. MHI suspended funding for APUFRAM and reported the incident to the Conventual Franciscan Order in the United States. Father Emil, who had made annual fundraising trips to the United States is a member of this Order.
By late, 2009, because of additional alleged abuse cases made by MHI, the Conventual Franciiscan Order decided to launch an investigation. Consequently, in attempting to comply with their own rules and the Bishops standards on child protection, the US Franciscans have advised all US Bishops that fundraising by Father Emil, APUFRAM and APUFRAM International (a new US group formed to provide financial support), both of which are secular organizations, were not acceptable in the United States. In addition, Father Emil was order to cut his ties with APUFRAM, while the investigation is ongoing, even though he is not accused of any personal sexual abuse. Father Emil claims, that other than the case in Liberia, which has been investigated and now made public, he has never been aware of any cases of child abuse within the APUFRAM organization.
In October, 2009, in a joint letter distributed by MHI and APUFRAM, Father Emil apologized for any errors he and the APUFRAM Board made in the handling of the abuse case in Liberia, and in early 2010 the APUFRAM organization implemented a new and improved child protection plan. But, to date the restrictions on funding have not been removed and the investigation in Honduras has not begun.
It is difficult to ever justify the denial of funding for the poor when we consider the moral mandate to do that as given to us by our Lord. Representatives of MHI and the US Franciscans have declined to comment on why they oppose funding to aid poor children of Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Because the investigation can require lengthy periods, the lack of fundraising efforts in the United States has already resulted in hundreds and could result in thousands of children in the poorest countries in the world being deprived of food, shelter, and education. Even the best of well intended procedures can have devastating effects in some circumstances.
In early January, 2010, the USCCB was asked to review this case. In their response the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection noted, "The mandate of the USCCB's Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection is to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse within the U.S. Catholic Church, and this issue falls outside that purview". In addition to the dubious restriction on funding, this response raises the issue as to the degree, if any, religious orders domiciled in the United States should be involved when sexual abuses occur in foreign countries, which are operated by secular foreign-based missionary organizations even though they may be funded wholly or partially by US charitable organizations.