CORNWALL, ONT. – Controversy surrounding the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) continued to dog Canada's bishops as they began their annual plenary Oct. 17-21.
On day one of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) gathering of 75 bishops from across Canada, a Quebec pro-life group dropped off a 400-name petition demanding a complete review of CCODP.
The group, Quebec Campagne-Vie, said it is "deeply troubled by claims which appear to us as being well founded" that CCODP funds agencies in the developing world "that promote abortion, contraception and ideologies that run counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
"We're worried that only the tip of the iceberg has been exposed and we implore the bishops to explore the mandate from top to bottom," said George Buscemi who delivered the petition.
Meanwhile, LifeSiteNews.com editor John-Henry Westen was denied media accreditation and asked to leave the premises before the bishops began their deliberations.
In an interview, Westen said he had driven five hours from his home in Combermere, Ont., only to be told he could not attend the public sessions.
LifeSite News had received media accreditation in 2009 and 2010, well after it began its negative reports about Development and Peace partners.
CCCB communications director Rene Laprise told Westen he had sent him an email Oct. 13, which he re-sent Oct. 17 because the editor said he never received it.
"The leadership of our conference has expressed serious concerns over the manner in which positions have been taken by your organization," Laprise's email said, informing Westen he would not be granted access to the public portion of the plenary.
"Our executive officers in turn have indicated that the CCCB media relations officer should exercise caution in dealing with your organization."
"I find the whole thing really unfortunate," said Westen. "Would they ban the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, or the Globe and Mail because they often hold positions a lot more antagonistic to the Catholic Church than I ever would?"
But the pressure on the bishops did not only come from the pro-life side.
In the days leading up to the plenary, the union representing CCODP members wrote each bishop with their concerns that the agency was losing its democratic lay-run character.
The letter urged them to stand up for the agency, saying "repeated attacks" have "destabilized" Development and Peace.
In early October, former CCODP executive director Fabien Leboeuf issued a report that the conflict between LifeSite News and Development and Peace is nothing new.
CCODP came under attack by "an extreme right group" (Tradition, Family, Property) in the 1970s that alleged CCODP was providing political and financial support to armed conflict in the South, Leboeuf said. The group alleged CCODP was infiltrated "by a group of militant Marxists."
Leboeuf said whenever attacks came from the political right investigations "exonerated" CCODP of any wrongdoing.
Each time, he said, the CCCB adopted measures to increase episcopal control over the agency.
Finally, CCODP supporters behind the blog Soutenons Developpement et Paix blasted recent efforts by the bishops' conference to find a way to mediate controversial issues involving overseas partners.
The group said it does not support the new structure, which makes the CCODP national council "subservient" to the CCCB's standing committee.
At issue for the bloggers is whether the Church fulfills its Vatican II vision of the Church as the people of God or a "pyramidal Church that stands over and above the world."
CCCB president Saint-Jerome Bishop Pierre Morissette, however, stressed the integration of life and justice in his president's address Oct. 17.