D&P, LifeSite rev up their online war

  • March 25, 2010

OTTAWA - A leaked document that accuses Canadian “pro-life” groups of being militant, right-wing organizations that associate with violent factions has put the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) on the hot seat.

The document, a 10-page series of question-and-answers, was drafted by D&P to counter negative online media reports from a year ago, said executive director Michael Casey. It says “militant” pro-life groups and bloggers conspired in “concerted,” “organized” and “slanderous” attacks on D&P and it derides what are called “single-issue militant advocacy groups” that “continually misrepresent facts and distort reality to serve their purpose.”

Specifically, the document targets Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s most respected pro-life organization, and its affiliated news operation, LifeSiteNews.com . It calls Campaign Life a “militant anti-abortion lobbying group” and suggests it is part of “the far right wing fringe element of North American society” that is “associated with groups and individuals who have resorted to violence to publicize their cause and achieve their objectives.”

“The language is hateful,” said Campaign Life Coalition national organizer Mary-Ellen Douglas.

Campaign Life has consistently and steadfastly denounced violence throughout its 32 years.

While he did not apologize for the inflammatory language, Casey admitted Campaign Life does not advocate violence. He also conceded that some D&P members belong to the pro-life advocacy organization.

The document was intended for internal use only but “regrettably, unfortunately” it became public, Casey said.

It was circulated to staff, key leaders and the D&P board, including its two bishops, but several people sent a copy of it to LifeSite, said editor John-Henry Westen.

The document marks the latest escalation in a recrimination war that began last year in the run-up to the agency’s annual Share Lent fundraising campaign, when LifeSite wrote a series of reports alleging some of D&P’s overseas partners had links to groups that support abortion. At the time, Casey strongly defended his agency and LifeSite stood firmly behind its reporting. A hasty investigation by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) sided with Casey and his agency.

Even though LifeSite was critical of the bishops’ investigation, the matter seemed to be closed until D&P began circulating its controversial document earlier this month. Casey said he’d received no specific feedback from the bishops on it. The CCCB declined to comment, saying the bishops had nothing to do with the document’s creation.

The document said that LifeSite has an insignificant number of readers and that its reports had minimal impact on D&P fundraising, yet the articles diverted the attention and energy of leadership away from their regular work.

“You have to understand what our staff are going through,” Casey said. He cited threatening, abusive telephone calls at home and postcards of “bloodied, aborted fetuses” in fundraising envelopes.

“Where’s the sanity in this?”  

The Q&A document explains that the advocacy issue fueling the “attackers” is the matter of “de-criminalization of abortion which remains a highly contentious issue in many societies.”

“It is not a highly contentious issue by Catholic standards,” said Westen. “Apparently Development and Peace believes it is highly contentious.”

Casey pointed out the issue of how closely a Catholic development agency may work with non-Catholic partners that support the decriminalization of abortion is not entirely settled, either among the Canadian bishops or in bishops’ conferences around the world.

“What we’re looking for is some guidance here. In our protocols, it is a fact that we do get involved in these situations, if you want to call them that,” he said.

These issues have been laid before a four-bishop committee chaired by Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau.

Casey bristled at LifeSite’s concluding that partners who are sometimes two or three times removed from groups that support decriminalization are “pro-abortion” or “abortionist.”                              

“Nuance is not their forte,” he said.

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