Bishops express confidence in CCODP renewal

  • October 25, 2011

OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops remain confident in the renewal of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), despite concerns about “hysteria” and “misinformation” on both sides.

At the close of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) annual plenary Oct. 17-21 in Cornwall, Ont., the CCCB’s new president Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the bishops expressed a desire for CCODP to continue “as a vibrant institution that operates within our Catholic identity.”

Smith stressed the bishops had set up a vehicle for dialog and collaboration through the CCCB’s Standing Committee, working with the CCODP Liaison Committee. A report to the plenary, brought up as part of the regular agenda, indicated the process is “working together very well” in a climate of “mutual understanding,” he said.

Smith noted that some of the information he has seen indicates there “seems to be a real inflated hysteria that has developed around this issue.”

If people are feeling “panicky and worried,” Smith urged them to “to step  back and take a breath and look at gently and simply at what the bishops are asking for and simply trust the bishops and the leadership of Development and Peace to move forward on this.”

Though much of the latest online controversy has concerned whether bishops in the global south will have the opportunity to give a nihil obstat (Latin for “nothing hinders” or “nothing stands in the way,”) to CCODP projects in their dioceses, Smith said it was important not to “get caught up in the particular details of what we see happening.” 

But although the bishops emerged from the plenary united in support of CCODP, the Archdiocese of Toronto will continue its “practice of supporting only projects that are supported by the local bishop,” said the diocesan media relations director Neil McCarthy in an email. “We have worked with our partners at CCODP to identify a number of multi-year projects that fit these criteria.”

“We won’t hesitate to dialogue with CCODP or the CCCB Standing Committee should the need arise,” McCarthy said.

Smith said the bishops want to call people “back to a fundamental trust in our process, trust in our structures and trust in our bishops.”

“The bishops of Canada as a whole appreciate what Development and Peace is,” he said. “We want it to continue and that’s the bottom line.”

Smith pointed out the “vast majority of people in our country” also appreciates “how great a gift” CCODP has been for its more than 40-year existence.

Though the organization is evolving, its core remains the same as an “agency working with the bishops under their guiding, respecting the call of the laity and their apostolate, bringing the values of the Gospel to bear on the issues of injustice and to speak and to act on behalf for our needy brothers and sisters,”  he said.

Bishop Fred Henry, who serves on the Standing Committee also spoke of “hysteria,” “anger,” and “misinformation” in an interview with Salt and Light TV, which collaborated with the CCCB in providing live coverage of portions of the week-long plenary via the Catholic digital network or live-streamed via the Internet.

The bishops’ agency has been under fire from pro-life websites and blogs since March 2009 when reports accused CCODP of funding projects through partners that were “pro-abortion.”   But since the spring of 2011, blogs in support of CCODP have pushed back against elements of the bishops’ call for renewal, warning the democratic lay-run character is jeopardized.

CCODP supporters have argued a nihil obstat requirement interferes with the tradition of coalition building and networking on social justice.  Pro-life critics have defended the nihil obstat as a line of defence for bishops who wish to stop projects in their dioceses by CCODP partners who supporting abortion or artificial contraception.  

But Henry spoke of a more nuanced approach to problems that might arise.

“We are not asking for the local bishop to give a kind of a nihil obstat to the project,” Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary told Salt + Light TV’s (S+L) Kris Dmytrenko Oct. 19. “But what we’re looking for is to inform, communicate with the local bishop and have him become an active partner in the project itself and the selection of partners.”

Should differences arise the matter will be deferred to the Standing Committee and Liaison Committee.

Henry told S+L the “revisioning” of a 43-year old agency that had operated under a specific mandate is bound to have “bumps in the road” and that it “is not going to be an easy process.”

Pope Benedict XVI’s social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate presents a “holistic understanding of the human person and development itself that stretches us and asks us to expand our conceptual framework on how we view these issues and how we respond to them,” said Henry.  “This takes time.”

When an organization has “been doing something for 43 years the same way” there is going to be “some friction,” he said, adding  “I’m amazed at how well it’s going and how far we’ve come even in the past year.”

Henry acknowledged that CCODP is a lay organization added it is not productive to put bishops in one camp and laity in another.

He noted the sacrament of baptism gives all, including bishops, a status in the People of God.

“We tend to put people in boxes,” he said.  “We say well, you’re progressive; you’re conservative, you’re clergy, you’re a bishop.”

“We’re the People of God, trying to problem-solve together.”

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