Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
OTTAWA — The decision to cancel a visit of a Mexican partner of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) last April, while painful, might be important to a purification process, said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.
"I think this raises an issue of cooperation with partners who share some values with us but are in conflict with a major principle of Catholic teaching," the archbishop told the AGM of the CCODP diocesan council June 8.
Prendergast and CCODP executive director Michael Casey said Centro PRODH's links to groups that support abortion led to the cancellation of the visit by Jesuit Father Luis Arriaga.
Centro Prodh is a human rights agency that had received funding from CCODP for 10 years.
Local CCODP members also got a chance to air their hurt and disappointment.
"It was such a confusing time," said council treasurer Joan O'Connell who had organized Arriaga's several diocesan events. "I was in shock."
O'Connell also raised the question of "hurtful things" people are saying in various social media. "We should all be together in this," she said. The divisions in the Church "have implications for our partners and the people in the Global South."
Prendergast said more needed to be done by CCODP supporters to show "unquestioned support of the right to life issue."
"Pope Benedict has said that integral human development includes the right to life," the archbishop said. "Justice and right to life issues are joined together."
Arriaga's organization, Centro PRODH, was among five Mexican partners criticized in online reports during the 2009 Share Lent campaign for participating in a human rights declaration that supported the decriminalization of abortion, Casey said.
Casey said an inquiry launched by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops found the groups had not directly advocated abortion, their participation in the document had been "imprudent."
He praised Centro PRODH's work in defending poor farmers, indigenous peoples and women who are victims of violence.
Prendergast said he had asked Arriaga to give a statement clarifying his response to new online evidence showing his support for a group advocating abortion, or to provide a statement from his bishop in support of the group.
"His own statements to me were not satisfactory."
Meanwhile, growing opposition to his visit that included an upcoming prayer vigil demonstration outside the diocesan centre led him and Casey to jointly decide to cancel the events.
Centro PRODH has since lost its funding from CCODP.
"It's not been a happy time," said Prendergast, who described Arriaga as "a brother Jesuit."
The archbishop said the "rebound" from the decision has been continuous, including public support for Centro PRODH from Jesuit provincials in Canada and Mexico. He has also been criticized in Quebec news media and blogs.
The archbishop expressed his continued support for CCODP but also defended the principle of having CCODP obtain permission from the local bishop.
If a Catholic development agency from Germany or another country was doing work in Canada's North, for example, it would be "courteous to consult the bishop in the diocese," he said.