October 31, 2011

CORNWALL, ONT. – Canada's Catholic bishops remain confident in the renewal of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, despite "hysteria" and "misinformation" on both sides.

At the close of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) assembly Oct. 17-21, Archbishop Richard Smith, the conference's new president, said the bishops expressed their appreciation for CCODP.

The bishops want the organization to continue "as a vibrant institution that operates within our Catholic identity," he said.

Smith stressed the bishops had set up a vehicle for dialogue and collaboration with CCODP.

A report to the plenary, brought up as part of the regular agenda, indicated the process is "working together very well" in a climate of "mutual understanding," he said.

"The bishops are very confident that the work of this dialogue is going to proceed very well and is making great progress," he said.

Smith noted that some of the information he has seen indicates there "seems to be a real inflated hysteria that has developed around this issue."

If people are feeling "panicky and worried," Smith urged them to "to step back and take a breath and look gently and simply at what the bishops are asking for and simply trust the bishops and the leadership of Development and Peace to move forward on this."

"The bishops of Canada as a whole appreciate what Development and Peace is," he said. "We want it to continue and that's the bottom line."


Smith pointed out the "vast majority of people in our country" also appreciate "how great a gift" CCODP has been for its more than 40-year existence.

Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, who serves on the bishops' standing committee that discusses issues with CCODP also spoke of "hysteria," "anger" and "misinformation" in an interview with Salt + Light TV.

The agency has been under fire from pro-life websites and blogs since March 2009 when reports accused CCODP of funding projects in the Global South through partners that were "pro-abortion."

But since the spring of 2011, blogs in support of CCODP have pushed back against elements of the bishops' call for renewal, warning the democratic lay-run character is jeopardized.


Pro-life critics have supported the use of a nihil obstat as a way local bishops in the South can stop projects in their dioceses by CCODP partners who support abortion or artificial contraception.

A nihil obstat - Latin for "nothing stands in the way" - is a formal statement of approval from a bishop that there is nothing in a publication or project that is contrary to Catholic teaching.

CCODP supporters have argued a nihil obstat requirement interferes with the tradition of coalition building and networking on social justice.

But Henry spoke of a more nuanced approach.

"We are not asking for the local bishop to give a kind of a nihil obstat to the project," he told Salt + Light Oct. 19.

"But what we're looking for is to inform, communicate with the local bishop and have him become an active partner in the project itself and the selection of partners."