Swirling D&P controversy raises concerns about fundraising backlash

  • April 13, 2011
Bishop GreccoTORONTO - Ongoing controversy over abortion and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace may be having a negative effect on overall fundraising for ShareLife.

Each time Development and Peace faces public allegations that some of its partners are linked with organizations advocating legal access to abortion, ShareLife is contacted by angry donors threatening not to give, said ShareLife spokesman Bill Steinburg.

“Whenever they call we always remind them that by doing so they’re having an impact on the huge family of more than 40 agencies that do a lot of work here on the ground, helping our own communities,” Steinburg said.

Early this month, speaking engagements by a Mexican priest to promote Development and Peace’s overseas work were cancelled in Ottawa and Cornwall following allegations that the Jesuit priest’s human rights centre is associated with an organization that supports decriminalization of abortion. In cancelling the Ottawa events, Archbishop Terrance Prendergast said that support by Fr. Luis Arriaga’s centre for groups sympathetic to abortion is “incompatible” with Church teaching.

ShareLife can’t quantify the impact that the controversy has had on the archdiocese of Toronto’s general appeal.

“Conversely, we have people calling upset that we’re not doing more for Development and Peace,” said Steinburg.

Last year ShareLife set a record with $13.6 million raised, not including $4.5 million collected for eight emergency relief efforts around the world. Emergency funds are channelled through Development and Peace, Canada’s representative in the Caritas Internationalis network.

Development and Peace has not seen donations across Canada diminish because of the controversy, said executive director Michael Casey.

Casey said he understands people are frustrated when controversy keeps cropping up concerning groups and social justice networks that partner with Development and Peace. Catholics should remember that plans for closer scrutiny of partners, drawn up by Canadian bishops last fall, “are going to take time to implement,” Casey said. He said that because controversies often concerned third-party groups associated with Development and Peace partners, rather than the partners themselves, questions of how or whether a partner agency has violated Church teaching on abortion is not quite cut and dried.

“Our partners and ourselves absolutely do not condone any of these things that are against the teaching of our Church,” said Casey. “Being tarred by association with other non-like-minded groups, is that necessarily grounds for annulling good work that is being done in other areas?”

In general, Canada’s bishops are satisfied that Development and Peace is headed in the right direction and that Toronto Bishop John Boissonneau’s commission of investigation last year created a practical program for renewing Development and Peace, Charlottetown Bishop Richard Grecco told The Catholic Register.

“I thought Bishop Boissonneau was very clear in explaining that what they (the bishops) wanted done was done,” said Grecco.

Grecco is one of two bishops who sit ex-officio on the Development and Peace board.

In Ontario, the archdiocese of Toronto and diocese of Pembroke have placed restrictions on how money raised for Development and Peace may be spent. In Toronto, a $900,000 annual contribution is directed to 15 Development and Peace projects around the globe. The Toronto list of partners has been endorsed by local bishops or conferences of bishops. Pembroke has designated it’s contribution of just over $100,000 for emergency humanitarian aid.

“Every bishop does what they want to do, even though we’re all in agreement that we should support D&P,” said Grecco.

With the exception of Arriaga’s cancelled visits, the Development and Peace round of “solidarity visits” by partners has generated overwhelmingly positive reaction across Canada, said Casey.

“The collection is yet to come, so we’ll have to see. But the visibility factor has been very good.”

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