PHOTO | FRANCOIS GLOUTNAY
Archbishop Richard Smith, young Haitian artists and Archbishop Paul-André Durocher stand in front of paintings of the artists at the Musée du Panthéon national haïtien.
OTTAWA – The Canadian bishops take concerns about its development agency's overseas partners "very seriously," but also point out that a Haitian group criticized in a recent online report has the support of local bishops.
In a March 5 report, LifeSiteNews said the Haitian organization APROSIFA (Association pour la promotion de la santé integrale de la famille), a partner of Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), dispenses free contraceptives and promotes access to abortion.
APROSIFA is among about 30 CCODP partners, including religious orders, providing assistance to Haitians recovering from the massive 2010 earthquake that devastated an already deeply impoverished nation.
"Concerns such as those raised about APROSIFA are taken very seriously by the bishops of Canada and will be addressed through the Standing Committee on Development and Peace," René Laprise, media relations director for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), said in an email.
CCODP has collaborated with APROSIFA "in one specific reconstruction and rehabilitation project in a deprived neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince," Laprise said.
"The project involves the three following elements: basic living necessities for 150 heads of needy families, a music and dance symposium for 100 youth, and two exhibitions of artwork by young people to help encourage awareness of reconstruction efforts and the impact of climate change in Haiti."
The project also has the support of the local Catholic bishops.
An Aug. 22 letter from Port-au-Prince Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Lafontant supports the project, describing it as "an important contribution to the reconstruction and rebuilding of a just and equitable civil society."
The letter also endorsed APROSIFA as a "reliable organization" and praised its coordinator Rose Anne Auguste as someone who "warrants support and confidence."
LifeSiteNews reported a Creole-speaking "woman working undercover" called APROSIFA and asked about obtaining contraceptives. She was told she could get them for free.
In an interview, LifeSiteNews editor John-Henry Westen said the woman did not lie about her status as a childless, 21-year-old woman, though she did not disclose she was obtaining the information for publication. The news website also reported APROSIFA had received a grant to publish into Creole the book Where Women Have No Doctor which includes information "on obtaining abortions and contraception."
The book also includes information on how to stop bleeding, dress wounds and other practical health information.
"If the Haitian bishops are onside and vouch for this group, then I would support them," said Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, a member of the bishops' CCODP standing committee.
"The group may not be perfect but they must be doing a lot of good work even if there are a few positions and actions that we will have to challenge them on. LifeSite seems to want a squeaky clean world but have no idea as to how to get there," he said.
Henry pointed to Pope John Paul II's words: "Taking its inspiration from the pedagogy of the Incarnation, the Christian community is called to walk with Christ beside men and women of today, supporting them in their difficult search for the truth and making them in some way feel the presence of the Redeemer in everyday life, which is marked by uncertainty about the future, by injustice, by confusion and at times by despair."
"We are clear in what we stand for," Henry said. But the pope emphasized the need for Christians to work alongside others by witnessing the Good News and dialoguing with them, "starting with what is positive among them."
"We do not have to fear or shield ourselves against others who have different views and beliefs," he said.
Archbishop Richard Smith, president of the CCCB, and CCCB vice president Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher were photographed with APROSIFA representatives in December during their solidarity mission to Haiti.
CCODP raised $20 million from Canadian Catholics in response to the earthquake. This money has funded or will fund projects in a multi-year program through a range of partners.