D&P controversy heats up at bishops' plenary

  • October 20, 2011

OTTAWA - Controversy surrounding the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) continued to dog Canada’s bishops as they began their annual plenary Oct. 17-21 in Cornwall, Ont.

On day one of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' gathering of 90 bishops from across Canada, a Quebec pro-life group dropped off a 400-name petition demanding a complete review of CCODP, while the editor of LifeSiteNews.com, whose coverage has fuelled much of the controversy, was asked to leave the premises.

Accusations that the bishops' international development agency has been funding pro-abortion groups have been swirling over the past few years and has led to investigations by the Canadian bishops, who have formed a standing committee to liaise with CCODP. 

Those who signed the petition, organized by Quebec Campagne-Vie (QCV), said they were “deeply troubled by claims which appear to us as being well founded” that CCODP funds agencies in the developing world “that promote abortion, contraception and ideologies that run counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“We’re worried that only the tip of the iceberg has been exposed and we implore the bishops to explore (CCODP's) mandate from top to bottom,” said George Buscemi, who delivered the petition. “All teachings of the Church must be respected.” 

Drama intensified Oct. 17 when the CCCB media relations officer asked LifeSiteNews editor John-Henry Westen to leave the premises shortly after he attended the morning prayer and Mass.

In an interview from Cornwall, Westen said he had driven five hours from his home in Combermere only to be told by the CCCB media relations officer he could not attend the public sessions. LifeSiteNews had received media accreditation in 2009 and 2010, well after it began its negative reports about CCODP partners. CCCB communications director Rene Laprise told Westen he had sent an e-mail Oct. 13 advising Westen he would not be granted access to the public portion of the plenary, which he re-sent Oct. 17 because Westen said he never received it.

“The leadership of our conference has expressed serious concerns over the manner in which positions have been taken by your organization,” Laprise’s e-mail said. “Our executive officers in turn have indicated that the CCCB Media Relations Officer should exercise caution in dealing with your organization.”

“I find the whole thing really unfortunate,” said Westen. “Would they ban the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun or the Globe and Mail because they often hold positions a lot more antagonistic to the Catholic Church than I ever would?”

But the pressure did not only come from the pro-life side. In the days leading up to the plenary, the union representing CCODP members wrote each bishop about concerns the agency was losing its democratic lay-run character. The letter urged the bishops to stand up for the agency, saying “repeated attacks” have “destabilized” it.

Also, in early October, former CCODP executive director Fabien Leboeuf issued a report that the conflict between LifeSiteNews and CCODP is nothing new, noting the agency came under attack by “an extreme right group (Tradition, Family, Property) in the 1970s that alleged it was providing political and financial support to armed conflict in the South and that it was infiltrated “by a group of militant Marxists.”

Leboeuf said the attacks over the years have a similar pattern: all accusations came from the political or Christian right, some bishops were prepared to “lend credit and legitimacy” to the accusations, investigations “exonerated” CCODP of any wrongdoing and each time, the bishops adopted measures to increase episcopal control over the agency.

CCCB president Pierre Morissette said the plenary will discuss two major reports: one by the Standing Committee on CCODP and the other by the Ad Hoc Committee for Life and Family that includes a “proposal for immediate and future pastoral planning.”

“Part of the challenge facing us is to remind our faithful how these two areas of concern are intimately inter-related,” said Morissette, whose term as president is up at the conclusion of the plenary. “Justice and human rights include respect for all human life,” and includes “concern for the human person from conception to natural death, and thus every moment in between."

Morissette urged members of both the CCCB and CCODP “to find the means to continue working together, to strengthen and improve collaboration and to renew a common witness.”

Morissette said he is confident the CCCB’s Standing Committee “will prove an effective way for us bishops to move forward in accompanying and renewing Development and Peace in its work and mission.”

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