Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Letter to the National Council from Ottawa member

Dear Michael and National Council Members:

In advance of your meeting this week-end, I wanted to share with you my thoughts – which are still evolving – about all that has been happening with and within Development and Peace lately.

I have just woken up to the fact that as a delegate to the Ontario Provincial meeting (OPM), I in fact missed the boat on our opportunity to ask the questions that have been eating away at many of us, especially here in Ottawa. I have also just come to realize that our Diocesan Council (DC) was still suffering the effects of shock after the cancellation of Father Luis Arriaga’s solidarity visit. We in Ottawa were in a state of confusion and I think we were going through all the stages one usually attributes to mourning.

Even at the OPM, I think we were there - at least I was - hoping to “receive” enlightenment. Instead we should have asked for what we needed although I have to say that Bishop Paul-André Durocher was very kind to meet privately with our DC and respond to at least some of our questions.

On further contemplation and upon learning that our long-time partner Centro Prodh has been cut, I realize that I have questions that I should have raised with National Council members at the OPM and that I have for management as well. I also have some thoughts to share.

My questions are this:
1. Who decided to cut funding to Centro Prodh? Was Development and Peace directed to do so? If so, by whom?

2. Was there wrongdoing on the part of Father Luis or Centro PRODH that was the reason for this cut? If so, what was it? If not, why were they cut?

3. Was National Council involved in this decision? If not, why not?

4. What was the reaction from Centro PRODH? What have been the reactions of our other partners who have heard about this?

I have more questions and they keep popping up as I think more about this. Some days however I just don’t want to think about it at all.

The concerns that are weighing on me are many but I guess I worry most about what cutting off a partner says about our commitment to solidarity and our Catholic ideals. Isn’t the Christian way, when one is faced with a problem with one’s neighbour, to approach the person and talk about it and try to resolve it?

Why did we not try to work with Centro PRODH to solve whatever the problem was? I worry that this partner may have been sacrificed for expediency’s sake in reaction to the most vocal and relentless conservative social media sites. I also worry about the message that this decision sends to our other partners.

Another thing that worries me is the apparent lack of trust that the bishops have in Development and Peace. This has been apparent for some time and is worse now. We can’t just dismiss this. The fact that some of them seem so ready to believe certain social media as well as unsubstantiated comments from the bishop in Mexico but have a hard time believing representatives from the Catholic organization that their predecessors founded speaks to a fundamental problem. Why do they not trust us? Have we failed them in some way? Have we not delivered on things that they expected? And what about the bishops on NC – have they not kept their fellow bishops informed?

I realize that the timing of the cancellation of the Fr. Luis’ visit was just after a National Council meeting and that you will be discussing this and all its ramifications at this week-end’s meeting. I wonder however if there is a way to make decisions in between meetings. Granted there have been some communications from both management and NC but out here it doesn’t feel like much, especially when new developments keep happening and new questions pop up. Perhaps there needs to be a process you could call on in extra-ordinary circumstances so that you could ensure that members are kept fully in the loop on critical issues. What is happening of course is that members are turning to other sources - some of them very good - to try and understand. We need to hear what is happening from our elected representatives, what stand NC is taking on our behalf and what direction it is giving management.

Finally, regarding the possibility that a southern bishop or cardinal would have the right to approve a project/partner before Development and Peace could support it, this seems really extreme to me. I recall those times in our history when the Church was more aligned with the elite than with the poor and marginalized. How would we safeguard against this? I don’t think we can just naively rely on good intentions. Also, lay persons and movements are often out in front of issues before the establishment – whether spiritual, political or social. Would we not be in danger of failing to support life-giving and life-saving work that might rattle a few cages at first but eventually becomes recognized as right and good and necessary? And speaking of our movement, giving such a right to southern bishops whittles away at our rights as members. That is not to say that we should not solicit their input. We may learn a lot from them. It would seem to make more sense to do this in the early stages of feeling out a partner, when we are considering our first short-term contract with them.

There are other things too such as the apparent valuing of one segment of the life continuum over others by our most vocal critics. However, I think I will leave it at that. May the Holy Spirit guide all of you this week-end during your difficult deliberations as you make decisions that will affect our future. We will remember you in our prayers tomorrow night at our DC’s Annual General Meeting.


Joan O’Connell
Ottawa, Ontario.


  1. Anonymous08 June, 2011

    A reflection on the charges against D&P
    Let us remember one thing here. Whatever church teachings say on the subject, most catholics are opposed to abortion in most circumstances. Contrary to the fundamentalists, most pro-life catholics do not oppose abortion in extreme circumstances including rape, the pregnancy of a very young minor, or in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. A 2008 Time poll of catholics in the US showed that 59% are opposed to abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect a woman’s life or health. A 2009 Gallup poll in the US showed that 40% of catholics (mass attending and non mass attending) found abortion morally acceptable, compared to 41% of the US population at large.
    These views in the US seem similar to the views of the Canadian population on abortion. A poll commissioned by Sun News in spring 2011 found that only 8% of Canadians oppose abortion in all circumstances, although most do support some restrictions.
    This data means that the rigid and fundamentalist pro-life movement that is attacking Development and Peace is out of step not only with most North Americans, but also with most North American catholics.
    A predominant theme in Catholic Social Teaching is that moral decisions are not always clear cut ones to make and that catholics must use discernment and make moral decisions according to the particular circumstances and their conscience. In a 2007 pastoral letter, the US Bishops reminded catholics that “all life issues are connected”. Throughout history, theologians have in some circumstances defended the “just war”, in which they have justified government armies and armed movements taking the lives of a few to protect the lives of many more. Who are we to tell a woman whose life is endangered by a pregnancy that she must see it through to the end? Or the victim of rape that she must bear the child of the rapist? These are the circumstances in which most catholics believe abortion is acceptable.

    The fundamentalist, pro-life lobby is trying to manipulate catholics by telling them that D&P is lobbying for the pro-choice wing. In reality, D&P and its partners are taking a stand for life, echoing the US bishops statement that “all life issues are connected”. What a shame that some of our bishops, and indeed the Bishops’ Conference, do not seem to get this.

  2. Anonymous08 June, 2011

    Joan, excellent letter! You inspire us..

  3. Anonymous09 June, 2011

    Thank You, Joan! Strong letter!