D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars

  • June 8, 2011

It was about two months ago that I wrote about the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P), and the serious questions about its pro-life commitment. It was just after Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa had cancelled the speaking tour of a D&P partner organization in Mexico which collaborated with groups promoting abortion rights. Since then the most frequent question I have been asked by pastors is: What should we do about raising money for D&P?

My view is that D&P has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars because, aside from fundraising in Catholic parishes, they have a tenuous relationship with any distinctively Catholic mission. In their operations they are largely — and by their own proud design — indistinguishable from any number of peace and justice NGOs working in the developing world.

Developments since April have underscored how weak their Catholic identity really is. The controversy in Mexico centred on D&P’s relationship with the  Centro PRODH. As reported in these pages this week, the archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, wrote to the Canadian bishops saying that the Centro PRODH supports “activities that are an affront to Christian values.”

In response, D&P director Michael Casey grudgingly cut D&P funding to the Centre: “We couldn’t take a position against the highest ranking authority of the Church in Mexico on this.”

D&P had been funding the  Centre for 10 years. In 10 years, did D&P never think to ask the archbishop of Mexico City what he thought of Centro PRODH? Is it plausible that only when Cardinal Rivera’s letter arrived in Ottawa that D&P realized that something was awry?

Even more troubling, when questions about the Centro PRODH were publicly raised two years ago, the Canadian bishops sent a delegation of two bishops to Mexico to investigate the matter. The bishops’ visit was co-ordinated by D&P itself — a rather dubious investigative strategy — and D&P officials drafted the report, which cleared the Centre. A rather obvious question now needs to be asked: Did D&P, or the investigating Canadian bishops, never ask Cardinal Rivera what his views were of Canadian Catholics supporting Centro PRODH in his diocese?

Imagine for a moment if the situation was reversed. A Catholic development agency from say, Germany or the United States, decides to fund in Vancouver or Toronto a group that collaborates with pro-abortion groups here. This goes on for 10 years, and when questions are raised about this, the archbishop of Vancouver or Toronto’s opinion is not sought out as the first step. Being rich does not give one the right to ignore the reality of the local Church. Just because D&P has money from generous Canadian Catholics does not give them the right to undermine the public witness of local Catholics, beginning with the archbishop of Mexico City.

Any organization that thinks, much less operates, that way has a deeply flawed understanding of Catholic solidarity. Our duty towards those in poorer countries is not to undermine their social fabric with the corrupt morals of Canadian public policy, but to assist them in genuine human development according to Gospel values. If D&P gets that wrong, then of course it does not deserve Catholic support.

That’s why the Toronto solution to this problem is commendable, permitting Catholics to support the archdiocese’s ShareLife appeal in good conscience. Archbishop Thomas Collins has said no money raised in Toronto’s parishes will go to any D&P project that is not supported by the local bishop of the area. The fact that this is not already done, that D&P funds projects without reference to the opinion of the local Church, reveals a condescending attitude at odds with authentic Christian solicitude for the poor and suffering, to say nothing of simple courtesy for our fellow Catholics in the Church universal.

At a recent francophone regional meeting of D&P, delegates expressed their dismay that the Centro PRODH funding was cut, and more generally, that the bishops of Canada were seeking more careful oversight of D&P projects.

The delegates made it clear that they want Canadian bishops to give them access to parish collections, and then shut up. There is a certain consistent logic at play here; D&P is no more interested in the views of the bishops in Canada where they raise money than they are of the bishops in the countries where they spend it. That approach may earn them the support of social activists here and abroad, but it should not earn the support of Catholics.

(Fr. de Souza is the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary parish on Wolfe Island and chaplain at Newman House at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ont.)

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