Canadian bishops getting to bottom of Development and Peace allegations

  • April 16, 2009
{mosimage}Canadian bishops are winging it to Mexico to speak with Mexican bishops and local non-governmental organizations, trying to get to the bottom of accusations the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has funded groups lobbying the Mexican government for legal abortion.

Bishop Martin Currie of St. John’s, Nfld., and Bishop Francois Lapierre of Sainte-Hyacinth, Que., were scheduled to fly to Mexico on April 16 accompanied by staff from Development and Peace, CCCB general secretary Msgr. Mario Paquette and the outside eyes of Msgr. Carlos Quintana from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretariat for the church in Latin America. They planned to meet with representatives of five human rights organizations that alleges are promoting legalized abortion in Mexico.

“A lot of confusion has been sown in the minds of Canadian Catholics,” said CCCB president Archbishop James Weisgerber in a release. “It is now important to provide answers that respond to the important questions that have been raised.”

Currie and Lapierre will report first to the CCCB executive committee and then the bishops’ permanent council in June. There will be no public report until after the June meeting of the permanent council, said CCCB spokesman Gerald Baril. Whether the full report will be made public will be up to the bishops on the permanent council.

“If they need to take action they will, definitely,” said Baril. “It all depends on what they find out in Mexico.”

Baril said waiting for the annual permanent council meeting in June shouldn’t affect finances for Development and Peace because it often waits until October to receive funds raised during Lent. The annual Share Lent campaign raises about one-third of Development and Peace’s budget.

The archdiocese of Toronto and some others have said they won’t forward ShareLife and Share Lent collections to Development and Peace until they have answers about whether the money is funding pro-abortion activities.

Since initial reports on the Mexican partners, has made further allegations about groups funded by Development and Peace in Brazil, Bolivia, East Timor, Haiti, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Guinea. For now the bishops will only deal with the situation in Mexico, Baril said.

CIDSE , the international association for Catholic development agencies, said it  could not comment on policies for Catholic development agencies that partner with non-church groups to improve health care, advocate for human rights or organize communities.

“There are also good reasons to co-operate with non-church NGO’s, but please understand that this issue is first of all for one of our member organizations which all have very different mandates and concepts,” CIDSE general secretary Bernd Nilles wrote in an e-mail from Brussels.

Development and Peace’s U.S. counterpart, Catholic Relief Services , isn’t buying the story that Development and Peace has been careless about church teaching on abortion.

“They’re good people,” said Mike Weist, CRS executive vice president for charitable giving and awareness. “I know (Development and Peace executive director) Michael Casey personally. He is a good man. I just can’t believe that he would as a matter of policy or as a matter of direction be putting the church in Canada or Development and Peace in harm’s way in this regard by being involved in these activities.”

Last year CRS was caught in a similar situation involving a program it sponsored in Zambia. CRS financed printing and distribution of a magazine that promoted abstinence, but also spoke about the benefits of condoms. Even though the bishops’ conference in Zambia had thought the project worthy of support, CRS faced accusations it was promoting condoms with donor money.

CRS found itself the victim of irresponsible bloggers spreading a very partial picture of its activities, Weist said.

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