Fr. Ismael Moreno, or Padre Melo, has been the object of many death threats in Honduras. File photo courtesy of Radio Progreso

Investigation prompts fears for Jesuits

  • August 7, 2019

Canada’s Jesuits fear the 18-month joint investigation into 52 Development and Peace partners suspected of dissenting from Catholic teaching on abortion, gay rights and gender theory is putting a Jesuit in Honduras, along with his team, in danger.

In a public statement about the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops-Development and Peace investigation, Canada’s Jesuits warn that Jesuit Fr. Ismael Moreno and staff at Radio Progreso-ERIC are in a perilous situation.

“We are concerned that the allegations currently circulating and a potential loss of support from certain groups and leaders in our Church may put their lives at even greater risk,” said a July 30 public statement the Canadian Jesuits posted to their website.

Radio Progreso-ERIC co-ordinator Pedro Landa told The Catholic Register how, in the context of Honduras’s polarized and violent politics, allegations and suspicions are translated into justification for violence.

“When the bishops of Canada point to us as institutions that work outside the limits of the orthodox Catholic doctrine, they are providing — perhaps unintentionally — the perfect justification for this regime and its repressive forces to harden their repressive measures and attacks,” Landa wrote in an e-mail.

Moreno is under constant police protection because of ongoing threats to his life and past assassination attempts. Several of his staffers have been attacked, imprisoned and tortured.

In a July 19 e-mail, New Westminster Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Ken Nowakowski and Development and Peace national council president Evelyne Beaudoin asked Moreno — best known in Honduras as Padre Melo — for explanations of six articles posted to the Radio Progreso website between April 2014 and May 2017. Moreno replied July 23, confessing that two of the articles did express opinions contrary to Catholic teaching on abortion while he also declared his team’s work is deeply committed to life.

“We defend life in all its dimensions, of course, from the moment life begins in the mother’s womb. And not only in the mother’s womb, but also, and even more firmly, once that life has emerged from the mother’s womb,” Moreno wrote.

The Canadian Jesuits back up Moreno’s complaint that the investigation seems to be based on a search for keywords such as “abortion” and ignores both the context and the bulk of Radio Progreso-ERIC’s work.

“The texts put forward in the January 2018 review submitted to Padre Melo neither represent the essential character of their work, nor do they reveal the vast majority of the content of their publications,” said the Canadian Jesuits.

The investigation has entered its final stage and it is necessary “to ensure that the work of CCODP (Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace), and that of its direct international partners, do in fact adhere to the principles and values of Catholic social and ethical teaching,” said CCCB spokesperson Lisa Gall.

Neither the investigation nor any decision to defund Radio Progreso-ERIC will determine what the apostolate publishes or does, said Moreno.

“Although we need funds to survive in our apostolic mission, we would hope that the chill of the eternal Canadian winter that pervades your letter is not induced by a review on whether to continue or suspend funding to us,” Moreno wrote. “We cannot allow money to decide what we do or stop doing. This must be determined by faith and conviction in our apostolic mission that we receive from the Church, through the Company of Jesus — a mission that is incarnate in the cries of the poor of our Honduran society.”

The review of 52 Development and Peace partners has remained shrouded in secrecy since CCCB staff concerns were first revealed at a meeting of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops in 2017.

“Premature publication of information risks undermining the process, the results of the review prior to its completion, and inaccurately casting a negative or false light on the international partners, the CCODP, as well as the CCCB,” said Gall.

Moreno found the insistence on secrecy related to already published articles mysterious.

“We all wondered why the confidentiality you request is necessary, given that we are dealing with subjects of public debate,” Moreno wrote in his reply to Nowakowski and Beaudoin.

While columnist Melissa Cardoza did indeed express opinions in favour of free, legal access to abortion, it’s in the context of Radio Progreso’s mission to foster more open, civil, democratic debate in Honduras, Moreno said.

“We are defenders of freedom of expression in a country in which the latter is under siege,” Moreno writes.

The full text of Fr. Moreno's letter in response to the accusations

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