Development and Peace should look in the mirror to understand the crisis it finds itself in. Among its problems was supporting Fr. Luis Arriaga and his Mexican human-rights centre that was reportedly linked to pro-abortion groups, says Brian Lilley. Photo by Michael Swan

D&P’s funding woes a perfect chance to get back to its roots

  • April 10, 2012

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) recently issued a statement saying they are “extremely disappointed” with the news that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace had its latest government funding come in much lower than expected.

I for one couldn’t be happier.

Well, actually, I would be happier if D&P lost all of its government funding, but dropping from a request of $49 million over five years to just $14 million over five years is a step in the right direction.

What is obviously a crisis for the organization should also be seen as an opportunity to bring D&P fully back into the Catholic fold.

Over the last several years D&P has been at the centre of controversy over some of its funding partners. There has been some quite convincing evidence that it has been supporting groups that lobby for abortion and distribute contraception. The CCCB has taken these claims seriously, has investigated and brought about some much needed oversight for the official development arm of the Catholic Church in Canada.

That closer eye on the workings of D&P was evident a year ago when Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergrast cancelled the speaking engagements of Fr. Luis Arriaga. Arriaga was invited as director of the Miguel Pro Centre for Human Rights, a D&P partner. But his Ontario speaking tour was cancelled after revelations that the Miguel centre was affiliated with groups espousing abortion.And recently there have been reports that one of the Haitian partners of D&P published a book on how to obtain abortions.

These partners are obviously not in step with Catholic teaching. But they are not the problem, just symptoms of the problem.

When many people think of foreign-aid funding, from governments or religious groups, they think of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless — what we used to call corporal works of mercy. D&P has always had a broader, long-term mandate that involves development projects that foster sustainable solutions to lift people from poverty. But over the years D&P, like so many of the NGOs working in development today, have become more about politics than hunger.

This evolution is no secret — it’s right there in the D&P mission statement.

“The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, a democratic movement for international solidarity, supports partners in the Global South in the pursuit of alternatives to unjust social, political and economic structures. . .  In the struggle for human dignity, Development and Peace associates with social change groups in the North and South.”

And make no mistake, D&P funding doesn’t simply help people learn how to become active in their local politics to ensure they have a stronger voice in decision making, building better schools for their children or ensuring clean drinking water. D&P partners actively organize left-wing protest movements around the globe.

The situation is so troubling that one bishop recently said to me: “I worry that we are simply funding left-wing activists in Montreal to go and organize left-wing activists in other countries.”

As someone who has watched D&P up close for a few years now, and was asked by my parish priest to be the parish  D&P representative, I would go so far as to say the organization puts politics above faith. I have been shocked for years at how political the materials sent out for ShareLent and other fundraisers have been.

The organization’s web site is the same.

Using Google’s advanced site search I tracked four key words on and noted the number of times each word was mentioned. Solidarity is used 923 times on the D&P site, social 560, Christ 93 and Jesus just 59.

In an interview once, I asked Mary Durran, currently the International Programs Officer for Latin America, how D&P spreads the Gospel to those they help. I was told that this was not D&P’s mandate, that others would bring the Gospel. Their job was development work.

While I was shocked at the answer, Durran appeared shocked at the question.

D&P’s loss of government funding is an opportunity for Canada’s bishops and the lay faithful to bring this group back into the Catholic fold. With a greater reliance on funding from the pews, D&P will be forced to make the case that they are doing truly Catholic development work — in line with those corporal works of mercy and with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

That may mean making political statements from time to time but it should also mean a greater focus on the spiritual and bodily needs and less on the partisan aspirations of those in need.

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