The controversy over Centre PRODH, which Jesuit Father Luis Arriaga used to run, is driving a wedge between D&P and the Canadian bishops.

D&P's union chafes under tighter rules

  • June 29, 2011

OTTAWA — The union representing Development and Peace employees says tighter supervision by the Canadian bishops threatens the democratic nature of the lay-run organization and undermines the prophetic vision that motivates their work.

The union report, prepared for a recent meeting of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s (D&P) National Council in June, said the world “ is increasingly turning towards a conservative ideology.”

“There is clearly a turn to the right in several societies, as well as in the Universal Church,” it said.

The 7-page document, published June 25 on the blog Soutenons Developpement et paix (, claims the shift “runs counter to the prophetic vision that gave rise” to D&P’s creation 45 years ago.

A directive by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) that requires a support letter from local bishops to approve partner organizations and their projects risks “profoundly transforming” the agency’s approach to development through coalition building, the report said. Many partner organizations might not want to get a bishop’s approval, especially those involved in the empowerment of women, the union`s report said.  

The CCCB has been offering guidance to the agency they founded 45 years ago to brings its policies in line with Pope Benedict XVI`s latest social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate.  D&P has been criticized ìn online reports for funding projects in the developing world with partners who are have been accused of being "pro-abortion."

The Union of Employees of Development and Peace is a member of FEESP-CSN, a federation representing 300,000 public service employees in Quebec, and represents about 60 salaried employees at D&P`s Montreal-based headquarters.  On FEESP-CSN website, Jun 23, the D&P union president Marcelle Sinclair said forcing D&P to obtain a letter from the local bishop where they might have partnerships in coalition with groups that do not share the Church`s moral teachings challenges the foundation of their work helping the poor.

But Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast defended the bishops’ insistence that respect for life be integrated with the agency’s development work overseas.

“If the name Catholic is attached you have to be 100 per cent in favor of the cause of life,” he said. “If they want to go off and have a group that doesn’t have a Catholic character, let them go off and start something else.

“But let the Church’s outreach be evangelically motivated,” he said.” We do this for the sake of the Gospel, therefore we cannot have a contradictory message.

“We have to be engaged in loving the poor and seeing in them the dignity of the human person,” he said. "That dignity of the human person is found in the child in the womb and in the person on the deathbed. Anything that mitigates against total protection and the support of their dignity from conception to natural death we can’t have anything to do with.”

Delivered to the National Council in June, the union’s report outlines the latest controversy over the Centre PRODH, which was one of the first Mexican partners and pro-life blogs identified as pro-abortion two years ago.

The union reports on the Ottawa archbishop’s cancellation of the visit by the Centre’s former executive director Jesuit Fr. Luis Arriaga on April 1.

The union claims Arriaga was asked to sign a declaration saying, “The Centre PRODH supports the cause of life from conception to natural death; the Director and staff reject any link associating the Centre with abortion rights.”

“Lawyer and human rights defender Luis Arriaga refused to sign such a declaration which, in his own words, is a violation of basic human rights,” the report said.

Prendergast said he does not know what Fr. Arriaga meant in that statement; perhaps the priest felt his own human rights were being violated.

“I wanted him to reassure me that I could support his Centre and that my people could make a contribution without worry,” the archbishop said.  “I did not get that reassurance. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Shortly after Prendergast cancelled the Arriaga visit, D&P cut funding to Centre PRODH because Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Carrera wrote to the CCCB the Centre "does NOT represent the sentiments of the Church and has been characterized by its support and encouragement of groups and activities that are an affront to Christian values."

"With respect to the theme of defence of life, the organization has supported pro-abortion groups and promoted the purported woman's right over her body, against unborn life," said a translation of the letter obtained by The Catholic Register.

Prendergast said the prophetic vision that created Development and Peace is no more so than the prophetic vision of Pope Benedict XVI, who linked the teachings in Paul VI’s encyclicals on social justice and on human life in his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate.  

“I think what he said was brilliant. It really brought the two aspects together,” he said.

Prendergast said there is “no such thing as a conservative ideology.”

The Catholic Church is both conservative and liberal, he said, because it preserves the tradition of the Church while at the same time innovates where new things need to be done, but that innovation will not contradict the conservative values of the church.

Though many groups work in coalitions to promote various causes, those working with organizations that have problematic ties cannot claim to be a Catholic group, the archbishop said.

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