Written by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
3 June 2011
The Canadian funding of a Mexican human rights organization was cut following a letter from the archbishop of Mexico City that directly accuses the Jesuit-founded body of supporting pro-abortion groups.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) cut the funding for Centro PRODH, whose director recently had speaking engagements cancelled in Ottawa and Cornwall, after Mexican Cardinal Norberto Carrera said the organization "does NOT represent the sentiments of the Church and has been characterized by its support and encouragement of groups and activities that are an affront to Christian values."
"With respect to the theme of defence of life, the organization has supported pro-abortion groups and promoted the purported woman's right over her body, against unborn life," said a translation of the letter obtained by The Catholic Register.
Carrera's letter was sent to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which two years ago cleared Centro PRODH of similar accusations.Centro PRODH spokeswoman Francesca Allodi-Ross denies the charge, telling The Catholic Register "we have never worked on that issue."
In light of the letter, D&P had no choice but to end its 10-year funding relationship with Centro PRODH, said executive director Michael Casey.
"We couldn't take a position against the highest ranking authority of the Church in Mexico on this," he said.
The funding cut does not sit well with Jesuit provincial superiors in English and French Canada, who along with the Jesuit provincial in Mexico have issued an open letter defending Centro PRODH and its outgoing director, Jesuit Father Luis Arriaga.
"Fr. Luis Arriaga and his team deserve our support," said the May 25 letter signed by Fr. Jim Webb for English Canada, Fr. Jean-Marc Biron for French Canada and Fr. Carlos Morfin Otero for Mexico.
The three Jesuit provincials called Arriaga an excellent religious working in accordance with the mission entrusted to him by his superiors. In the context of Mexican violence, Centro PRODH's work is "a constant commitment to the right to life of each and all," they said.
The letter puts the provincials at odds with fellow Jesuit Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa and the CCCB. Prendergast barred Arriaga from speaking in the archdiocese in March amid allegations of the organization's pro-abortion stance.
Before the provincials' letter was issued, Francophone D&P delegates, representing about half of the agency's 12,000 members, voted at regional meetings to restore funding to Centro PRODH. The Quebec and New Brunswick regional assembly also "deplored" the creation of a bishops' committee looking into the future of the organization because it has no representatives from Development and Peace membership.
A recently surfaced photograph of Arriaga standing beside the founder of the Mexican organization Catholics for the Right to Decide sparked the current controversy. But Centro PRODH representatives say there is no relationship between the two.
Arriaga stepped down as executive director of Centro PRODH at the end of May, passing leadership on to Jesuit Father José Rosario Marroquin Farrera. The transition was in the works before Arriaga's March visit to Canada.
"(Arriaga's departure) has nothing to do with any abortion controversy. Luis was appointed to a fixed term as director," said Centro PRODH spokesperson Stephanie Brewer. "Centro PRODH does no work related to abortion. We have never participated in any campaign related to abortion."
Centro PRODH contributed several paragraphs regarding civil rights and dysfunction in Mexico's court system to an omnibus report for the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Mexico in 2008. Catholics for the Right to Decide also contributed paragraphs about legal access to abortion. Rather than receiving dozens of reports, the UN Human Rights Council requires NGOs to contribute to a single report.
Centro PRODH is also a member of the Red Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos (All Rights for Everyone), a network of Mexican NGOs with an interest in human rights. Statements it made don't represent the views of its individual members, nor are the members always consulted about the network's statements, said Brewer.
"I understand that some statement was signed by the Red TDT making reference to access to abortion several years ago, but we have no record of having participated," she said.
The controversy over Development and Peace and Centro PRODH has become a cause for many in Quebec, said l'Entraide Missionnaire executive director Suzanne Loiselle. The ecumenical coalition of Quebec aid organizations has sent letters to the CCCB and D&P questioning the decision to defund Centro PRODH.
"We know Centro PRODH. We know the important work this group does. We are very concerned," said Loiselle.
Catholic bishops are listening to fundamentalist campaigners in English Canada rather than members of D&P, she said. In 1967 Canada's bishops envisioned the organization as a lay-led, democratic movement. The current controversy has led to a "rupture," she said.
Centro PRODH said the funding decision will have minimal impact on its finances.