Open investigation into Development and Peace

  • April 14, 2009
{mosimage}When allegations surfaced that some funds from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace were going to a group that had ties to abortion advocates, a storm of protest was met by promises from church leaders for a swift and thorough review.

Subsequent to that came additional allegations of funds going directly or indirectly to other abortion-sympathetic agencies. In response, Development and Peace suspended funding to five Mexican groups and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced an investigation that will see two bishops join senior staff from Development and Peace on a mission to Mexico.

The bishops should be applauded for moving with haste, but by opting for a virtually in-house investigation they are stepping onto a tightrope without a safety net. By deputizing a committee whose only set of outside eyes and ears belong to an American bishop whose sympathies are unknown, the Canadian bishops face a balancing act fraught with risk.

The primary objective of this investigation is to restore public confidence in Development and Peace. The means to that end is to review Development and Peace’s affiliated agencies, particularly those that are the target of allegations, and ensure they are in compliance with church teachings. 

As the international development and humanitarian aid arm of the Catholic Church in Canada, Development and Peace has provided more than $500-million since 1967 to fund projects and provide emergency aid. As with any large organization, there may be cause to sometimes question methods or politics but never to question that Development and Peace delivers charity with efficiency and integrity to tens of thousands of people.

That work is primarily funded by donations, particularly during Lent, when Development and Peace raises one-third of its annual budget.

So the pending investigation is critical. Credibility demands that it be thorough, expeditious and transparent — and the final report should be public. Anything less will neutralize its effectiveness. And even then there is no guarantee of success because the investigation may widely be perceived, fairly or not, as an inside job.

The problem with an investigation that excludes significant non-partisan participation — even an investigation  bolstered by the integrity of three bishops — is that the only way it can avoid criticism is by finding the allegations to be true and then to censure Development and Peace. Anything less, even a finding of partial guilt or minor indiscretions, and there’ll be cries of coverup.

But how realistic is it to expect an investigative team that includes several senior staff from Development and Peace to censure itself? And what if it is largely blameless? Even if there is an exhaustive, principled and documented investigation that concludes the allegations lack merit, the absence of non-partisan voices in the report, with the possible exception of one American bishop, will likely mean the coverup charge will be levelled anyway.

An investigation should provide answers but this one seems only to raise more questions.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.