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Commentary by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding an interview by PROXIMO with Father Claude Lacaille, P.M.É.

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Following an interview with Father Claude Lacaille, P.M.É., published in the April 23, 2011, edition of Proximo, entitled “Crise chez Développement et Paix : des catholiques québécois en ont ras-le-bol” (“Crisis at Development and Peace: Québec Catholics are fed up”), the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wishes to provide further information.

COMMENTARY BY THE CANADIAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS
REGARDING AN INTERVIEW BY PROXIMO
WITH FATHER CLAUDE LACAILLE, P.M.É.

In its edition of 23 April 2011, Proximo published an interview with Father Claude Lacaille, P.M.É., entitled “Crise chez Développement et Paix : des catholiques québécois en ont ras-le-bol” (http://www.radiovm.com/Proximo/Nouvelles.aspx?/=8896). In the opening paragraph, Proximo stated that accusations are being made which “are taken seriously by some Bishops” [“visiblement prises au sérieux par quelques évêques”], while Father Lacaille goes further by suggesting that the Bishops of Canada are “prostrate” [“il y a ‘l’à-plat-ventrisme’ chez les évêques”], “frightened” [“Arrêtez d’avoir peur!”] and “manipulated” [“Il ne faut pas se laisser manipuler”] because of an “Internet mafia” [“une espèce de mafia … des sites Internet”].

The article appears to originate in reaction to a recent decision to cancel speaking engagements in Ontario that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) had planned for the Director of the Centre PRODH in Mexico. The following brief chronology will clarify several aspects about this particular point: In spring 2009, a Committee of Inquiry from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) had found that the Centre PRODH was one of several Mexican groups which was “imprudent in signing a United Nations report on the human rights situation in Mexico that included orientations not in accord with Catholic teaching.” However, earlier this year, because another resource person for Share Lent could not get a visa, Development and Peace staff instead invited the Director of the Centre PRODH to serve as a last-minute substitute speaker. Once this invitation became known, questions and complaints began to be raised. After careful reflection, the Archbishop of Ottawa and the Executive Director of Development and Peace mutually decided to cancel the speaking engagements, so that the controversy not distract from the Share Lent program. Subsequently, Church authorities in Mexico confirmed they have serious concerns about the Centre PRODH. This information was sent to the attention of the CCCB General Secretary, who necessarily shared it with all the Bishops, including the Archbishop of Ottawa, and also with Development and Peace.

Thus, Father Lacaille is incorrect in stating that the Centre PRODH had earlier been absolved by the CCCB [“a été lavé de tout soupçon”]. Furthermore, whatever questions or comments from one or other website or blog, the important issue for the Bishops of Canada and for Development and Peace is that the Centre PRODH does not have the full support of the local Bishop in Mexico.  

This leads to the underlying issue raised by Father Lacaille and Proximo. Father Lacaille asserts there are “Canadian Bishops who want Development and Peace to die” [“certains évêques souhaitent la mort de D&P”] but that they should not be allowed to “destroy it” [“Ne détruisez pas ça”]. To address this charge, it is important to distinguish between two different although important issues which unfortunately Father Lacaille manages to confuse: the difficulties and challenges facing not only the Church but all our society because of some extremely polarizing voices that are using the social media, and the current efforts being made by Development and Peace to ensure that its central focus and purpose remains human development.

The communications challenge will be taken up later in this commentary, in light of the following considerations about questions concerning CCODP itself and which especially preoccupy Proximo and Father Lacaille. Development and Peace was founded by the Bishops of Canada in response to Pope Paul VI’s 1967 Encyclical Populorum Progressio: On the Development of Peoples. This theme was later taken up and developed further by Pope John Paul II, and more recently given new force by Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate: On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth. With its vision that “Openness to life is at the centre of true development” (no. 28), the Encyclical is recognized by CCODP as well as by the Bishops of Canada as a key opportunity to reaffirm and re-energize Development and Peace.

Rather than the accusations being made against Development and Peace by a few websites, it is the Encyclical’s holistic vision of human development which is front and centre of the reflections by the Bishops of Canada on Development and Peace. Already during their 2009 Plenary Assembly, the Bishops had noted their close bond with CCODP, expressed their profound desire for it to continue its mission, stated their appreciation for its excellent work over the years, and confirmed their intention of collaborating in its renewal as well as in the review of its mandate in the light of Caritas in Veritate. For these reasons, at their 2010 Plenary Assembly the Bishops decided that instead of an Ad Hoc Committee on Development and Peace, the importance of the agency and its mission warranted establishing a new CCCB Standing Committee. Its purpose is to advise both the Conference and CCODP, providing them “a forum to share information and collaborate more closely on achieving their common goal, which is to help the world’s most vulnerable persons.” The above facts are all documented on the CCCB website, www.cccb.ca.

Thus, the Bishops of the whole country, from Quebec as well as the rest of Canada, from both the French Sector and the English Sector, have been involved in this reaffirmation of Development and Peace and its mission. The Standing Committee itself is currently composed of two Bishops from Quebec (the Most Reverend André Gaumond, Archbishop of Sherbrooke, and the Most Reverend Pierre-André Fournier, Archbishop of Rimouski), and two from English-speaking Canada (the Most Reverend John Boissonneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, and the Most Reverend Fred Henry, Bishop of Calgary). In addition, the Committee is advised by two Bishops appointed by the Conference as its representatives on the Development and Peace National Council: the Most Reverend Claude Champagne, O.M.I., Bishop of Edmundston, and the Most Reverend Richard Grecco, Bishop of Charlottetown. Over the coming months, as already agreed by the D&P National Council, these two Bishops will also become official members of the Standing Committee.

In addition to his interview with Proximo, Father Lacaille has been circulating letters criticizing the Bishops of Canada for insisting with Development and Peace that local Bishops in the Global South are to be asked to advise D&P about its projects in their dioceses. In the past, the “nihil obstat” of the local Bishop often accompanied a project request, but was not an essential part of the D&P approval process. However, it is not only the right of a local Bishop to be consulted, it is also a matter of common courtesy. Any Canadian Bishop would certainly expect the same from an outside Catholic agency wishing to work in his diocese. Why would dioceses in the Global South not be treated the same way as D&P partners? In cases of emergencies or other urgent situations when it may be simpler or faster, the CCCB is prepared for Development and Peace instead to seek the advice of the local Conference of Bishops or that country’s Caritas agency. Whatever the source of this regional input from a Church authority, it assures Development and Peace as well as all its supporters that the project will involve some form of local support. It means that Development and Peace knows it can count on the openness of the local Church authorities for the project in question. It testifies to Canadian Catholics and to the diocese in the Global South that they are truly united in faith and solidarity. As well, as Development and Peace staff have already pointed out, this involvement by the local Bishops in the Global South also becomes an important opportunity for CCODP to engage all the Bishops of Canada in what Pope Benedict calls “integral human development”.

In its April 23 article, both Proximo and Father Lacaille criticize certain “Anglophone Catholic blogs” [“des blogues catholiques anglophones”] and “Canadian websites” [“certains sites Internet canadiens”]. Whether or not the criticisms they make are correct, it must be admitted there is a major communications challenge today facing all the Church and society. The “social media” offer new and exciting ways to share information and exchange viewpoints. But like all forms of communication, whether socially “conservative” or “liberal”, they can also manipulate and mislead, facilitating simplistic and even erroneous conclusions. The Bishops of Canada are aware of both the potential and the dangers. At their 2009 Plenary Assembly, there was a special evening session on the pastoral implications of blogs and Internet sites, both in terms of the new opportunities they can provide, and in view of their radicalizing and at times divisive impact on social as well as ecclesial discourse and relations. Because of this, the CCCB is now working to establish a more constructive climate in which it is hoped it will be possible to dialogue with at least one or other of the groups involved. A major part of the answer, however, is simply for Church institutions and agencies to be more effective in their own use of social media, and so ensure space not only for diverse Catholic voices but also for the Church’s teaching authority – namely, the Pope and the Bishops. For this reason, the CCCB will soon be embarking on a new approach to communications and information technology. More will be said about these plans over the coming weeks.

Contrary to the accusations by Father Lacaille and carried in the Proximo interview, it is clear that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is endeavouring in every way to see that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is reaffirmed and re-energized, and so will be able to continue the good work it does in today’s world.

May 4, 2011

 
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