By Simon Caldwell
A LEADING national antipoverty charity has pledged not to fund agencies which counsel or procure abortion — in the wake of pressure
from campaigning Catholics.
Comic Relief buckled after it was criticised for funding Marie Stopes International, Brook Advisory Services, Population Concern and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, though it denied any of its money was spent on abortions.
It gave just under a million pounds in a total of 15 grants throughout the 1990s to the birth control groups, but it has now emerged that they received no funding from the last Red Nose Day.
Comic Relief has also issued an assurance that none of its money will ever be used to either promote or procure abortions.
The grants given earlier were used to fund activities ranging from the salaries of AIDS officers, youth to youth counselling programmes, and maternity health and family planning advice.
Julian Filochowski, the director of Cafod, the overseas aid and development agency of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said Catholics could support national Red Nose Day next Friday "in good conscience".
He said: "We have got tremendous guarantees from Comic Relief for people concerned in this area. No money at all from the last Comic Relief day went to any of the organisations which have been mentioned.
"It seems to me this is something we should be celebrating. Comic Relief is an essentially good organisation."
During the last six months of last year, Mr Filochowski personally inspected records of projects kept at Comic Relief's headquarters in Vauxhall, London, and found no evidence that the charity had ever directly funded projects involving abortions.
He said: "The projects which Comic Relief has formed are for specific, clear, budgeted work and we were able to verify from their files their own statement they have not funded with Comic Relief/Red Nose Day money any project which provides abortion services and promotes abortion.
"What was so extraordinary about this meeting and the end result — and it should be something we pro-life people should be celebrating — is that they have made it absolutely clear that they will not fund any project which provides abortion or promotes abortion in the future, and have altered their project manual to make it explicit."
Mr Filochowski's involvement began when Comic Relief took the unprecedented step of offering the bishops unlimited access to its files after groups such as the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and Catholic individuals raised concerns over its grants to birth control groups.
An expert on development projects, Mr Filochowski was invited by the bishops to join Jesuit Fr Frank Turner, an assistant general secretary to the bishops' conference with special responsibility for international affairs, in a series of meetings with Comic Relief officials.
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