Nihil Obstat: The Absolute Power of Bishops in the South to Interfere,
Thus Conflicting with Partnership Relations, Development Work,
Ecclesial Co-responsibility and Hence With the Identity
and Mission of Development and Peace
Next September 19, the Liaison Committee of Development and Peace (D&P), appointed at the National Council meeting held last June, will undertake discussions and negotiations with the CCCB Standing Committee on Development and Peace concerning certain disputes that have arisen between the two organizations since 2009. The results will have to be brought back to the National Council in November. This means that we are entering a crucial phase for the future of D&P. This is the first time I have spoken out on this website, launched by four courageous and dedicated members of D&P. The reflection that I will be presenting here on a strictly personal basis is fully in line with my two previous interventions on the current situation at D&P. The first was made in a letter from the D&P Theology Committee addressed to the National Council at the end of April, and the second was a personal letter, also addressed to the National Council, last June 8.
The letter from the Theology Committee was in reaction chiefly to the premature and abrupt gesture by the Archbishop of Ottawa and D&P’s General Management vis-à-vis PRODH, a Mexican partner of our organization, attacked a second time by LifeSiteNews (LSN). The letter was also a reaction against the CCCB’s vehement attitude, as manifested by its senior staff in a meeting with D&P senior management, one week after the action taken by the Archbishop of Ottawa, as well as a reaction against the—to our mind abusive—demands then being made upon the organization, which included the immediate jettisoning of two of its long-time partners, PRODH itself and NMJD (Sierra Leone), orders not to defend the partners and to submit to a series of measures imposed unilaterally by the CCCB. At that time, we requested the National Council (which at the time knew very little about the situation), as the primary responsible body at D&P, to get directly involved in this case and to get the grassroots members involved in it as well.
In addition, on last June 8, two days before the National Council meeting, I addressed another letter to this body, personal this time, to warn it against the potential distortions [i.e., imbalances or biases] that a mandatory structuring measure imposed on D&P on behalf of the CCCB could involve: that of having all current and future partners of D&P being submitted for approval by the bishops concerned in the South, diocese by diocese, by issuing a nihil obstat (literally, “nothing hinders” or “nothing stands in the way”—a formula by which a Church authority declares a person, group or writing as being in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church). I argued that this measure would, in a very direct, head-on way, compromise the very meaning of partnership, the consistency of the responsibility of the laity in the Church (including that entrusted by the bishops when they established D&P, created moreover in conjunction with the clergy and laity), and finally the very mission and nature of D&P. It is this question of nihil obstat that will be the subject of the following comments, an issue that will be moreover at the centre of the upcoming negotiations. I am throwing out this reflection like a “bottle into the ocean!”
1. Some preliminary thoughts on the current situation faced by D&P
I would start this new reflection with four short excerpts from the Final Report of the Working Group of the National Council, entitled “... a Time of Grace” and filed in November 2010. These excerpts seemed to me to express the strange process to which Development and Peace (D&P) has been subjected since 2009 by a committee of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), and this process has now entered into a decisive phase. I did indeed say by the CCCB and not by LifeSiteNews (LSN) as such. The Report follows the first LSN attack, in 2009. Another controversy was raised in 2011 by LSN and some radical pro-life groups. It was quickly relegated to the background in favour of an intensification of pressure on D&P from the CCCB.
In fact, and in my opinion this is a hypothesis that has not yet been disproved, everything is happening as if the attacks by LSN had only served as a pretext for a few bishops to go into action, to try a power grab, in an attempt to carry out an in-depth transformation of the mission and orientations of D&P. Nothing in this matter seems improvised, rather it seems like a long thought-out intention which suddenly found the opportunity to move forward into the open at a time when D&P seemed more vulnerable, and when it seemed more possible to force the hand of their brother bishops. Many of us see the measures proposed for (or rather “imposed on”) D&P as a direct attack on its very identity, an attack that goes against the CCCB’s continuous confirmation over the last forty-odd years with respect to the organization’s mandate and achievements.
1) Significant extracts from the Report “... a Time of Grace”
Here are the excerpts that will circumscribe my comments:
“…We must always act in concert with the local bishops who are responsible for the Church in distant lands. This is required by natural courtesy, and also by the way the Church is structured. The bishops on the scene are also the ones who can verify that organizations in their country are appropriate partners, and are not in any way supporting anything contrary to our faith. Projects which we fund need to be in some way approved by the local bishop or the bishops’ conference.” (Archbishop Collins of Toronto, cited in p. 5–6 of the Report. Emphasis added)
“…It is my conviction and my hope that we will see the prophetic gift we have had in Development and Peace, and that we will stand together, no matter how fierce the opposition, in protecting and promoting the vision that has inspired so many of us all these years. This reflection and re-commitment could be a time of grace for us. Please take very good care of the treasure we have inherited. LifeSiteNews is not a worthy enough reason for us to squander it.” (Eileen McCarthy, former President of the National Council, p.12. Emphasis added)
“While there is general support for D&P among the leadership and the majority of the bishops of Canada, several bishops have expressed concerns relating to the mandate/orientation of our organization and our financing. While respecting these bishops and these divergent views, it is clear that should these minority views win wider appeal, D&P would be substantially changed.” (Authors of the Report, p. 1. My emphasis)
In its Recommendation No. 14, the Report, citing the possibility of some bishops withdrawing their support from D&P and the serious consequences for all aspects of the Organization’s mission, concludes: “Such a scenario by a few ‘financially-key’ bishops would also ‘splinter’ the CCCB and weaken D&P to a point where it would emerge only a shadow of its former self: a sad ending for a 43 year history of exemplary service to the Church.” (Report, p. 9. Emphasis added)
2) The emergence of the nihil obstat measure
The situation into which D&P has been unexpectedly plunged against its will has several components whose relative importance is being gradually revealed as the things and issues change, and the actors reveal their intentions, positions and arguments. I am thinking, for example, about LSN and its strategies; the relationships of D&P with various CCCB authorities—which never fail to reveal the differences and tensions within the Conference in spite of the will and appearances of unity; the relations between the CCCB and groups such as LSN claiming to be the only “real Catholics”; about the reactions of D&P General Management, the role of staff and grassroots members despite their being kept on the sidelines until recently, and about the members of the National Council; about the impact of the Vatican’s current policies for the overall Church, especially vis-à-vis Catholic NGOs, policies wielded in the name of a strictly conceived “Catholic identity,” a topic that I will come back to in a future reflection. I am also thinking about the Church’s social teaching as a reference to the work of D&P, as well as about the teachings on issues of human reproduction and abortion that some would like to impose as practically the sole benchmarks for evaluating the work of organizations such as our own. And finally, how can one fail to see in the current crisis the expression of different, if not conflicting, visions, on the conception and practice of the Church in the world today?
But with respect to the current reflection, the following comments will focus on the specific measure of nihil obstat that will have to be obtained from the bishops in the Global South and which the CCCB Standing Committee directed D&P to start discreetly within two weeks following a joint meeting held April 28, 2011. To my way of thinking, that is the most important issue, the one that, in any case, brings about the most adverse and certainly the most urgent consequences! I am going to focus on offering for discussion the different kinds of arguments that will invite a categorical opposition to this measure as it has been formulated so far. This does not exclude, however, a positive role to be exercised by the bishops of the South in the work of D&P and its partners, as is often currently the case.
While pointing out various potential forms of distortion in the implementation of the nihil obstat measure, I will focus more specifically on showing its negative implications in terms of, for example, the justice due the poor or oppressed, the necessary cohesion of the stakeholders in integral development, the conditions for the possibility of partnership which is so essential to development, a sense of responsibility of the laity in the Church, the value of the criterion of conformity with the Catholic Church's teaching and, last but not least, in terms of the very identity of D&P and its mission as well as the effectiveness and prophetic influence of its work.
3) One final note: the surreal, absurd and absolutely Kafkaesque character of the current approach
But before going on, a preliminary remark is still needed on the very way that the debate has been engaged, which gives us the impression of swimming in the middle of unreality, like in a nightmare. The climate is truly Kafkaesque! Based on nothing more than LSN allegations, using always a vicious strategy of “guilt by association,” everything is happening as if both the CCCB and D&P recognized the allegations as being true, as if they were referring to actual situations. The extreme “solution” of nihil obstat suffers first of all from trying to be applied to situations that either do not exist or else do not deserve this type of treatment. Inappropriate, it falls into the absurd just like the stubbornness to apply it anyway. The CCCB, frightened and eager to appear above suspicion, immediately gave the impression that it was trying to control this affair, absolutely and no matter what the cost. So it fell tooth and nail on D & P, requiring letters of apology to certain bishops, silence and... “excessive” measures of control over our partners in the Global South.
In this context of panic, everything seems to work in favour of adopting the nihil obstat measure: it appears to be the simplest solution, universal and infallible! On the one hand, as mentioned above, there are those few bishops, major fundraisers for D&P, who share at least some of the opinions of the “real Catholics” like the people at LSN and maybe even like those conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States. They are the proponents of this “one-shot solution.” On the other hand, there are several other bishops, more moderate, who, more than anything else, don’t want to have any problems with LSN and related groups, specifically Catholic groups, or even with the Vatican. So they are looking for the best way to be “clean,” both for themselves as well as the organization that was founded by the Canadian Church and that they sponsor, D&P. The nihil obstat may thus appear to them as the shortest road towards achieving this goal. Especially since the work of censure would be done by others: their colleagues from the Global South who, fairly often, are more conservative than they themselves are. So, will the temptation be too great, especially if the remaining bishops—perhaps the majority—remain passive and don’t get involved in the discussion?
For its part, at least until quite recently, D&P, through the voice of its Management and National Council Executive, are acting like they have been “crushed” or beaten down, complying, it seems, with everything or nearly everything, including, for example, the nihil obstat measure discussed here. Recommendation No. 6 of the Report appears quite symptomatic in that regard: “..a Time of Grace” (p. 5) which proposes that certain D&P members regularly monitor “websites of each of our Southern and Canadian partners and projects for content or links that could lead (by association) to false charges being levelled against D&P.”!
But how could partnerships remain viable in such conditions? The indispensable assumption of mutual trust is undermined at its base here. Relationships, development and even what is real no longer count. The only things that matter are the rule, the law and perpetual surveillance. How could D&P agree to act, even if it was to be in the name of the Church, in the same way that some NGOs have acted in the past—and perhaps do so even today—as instruments of surveillance for intelligence agencies (CIA, for example) or dictatorial States?
The climate of fear (of LSN, the Vatican ...?) thus seems to have spread from the CCCB to D&P itself through pressure by proxy. How else can one explain the Organization’s leadership (including the National Council’s Executive) suddenly embarking upon such a path, in spite of a track record of which the whole movement could be so proud? And to go so far as to keep D&P’s members and even a large part of the National Council in the dark for two years? I would not want to be unduly or excessively hard on these representatives, because I have no doubts about their good faith and commitment to the Organization. I suspect first of all that a very high degree of pressure, exercised supposedly in the name of the CCCB, played a leading role, pressure that specifically included financial threats from dioceses that are major donors, and hence there was a fear of seeing D&P profoundly destabilized. One can also think of a culture of spontaneous but excessive deference or obedience of lay people towards Church authorities, still very strong, especially in the English-speaking community. Or else possibly the representatives did not have strong enough political or theological reference points that would have enabled them to resist the pressures. Above all, a mistake was made in not having enough confidence and trust in the staff, members and movement itself to depend on them. This movement, beyond any particular expertise, has the spirituality and believing commitment of its members as its driving force; that is what moves it, as well as being deeply rooted in the tradition of D&P.
Be that as it may, the consequences make the match unequal, rendering the Organization unduly vulnerable. It is imperative that the National Council and senior management pull themselves together and demonstrate a stronger, more solid front against what appears to be a minority—but very determined—force at the CCCB. Only then will the attention of other bishops be drawn to what is happening and they will be given the opportunity to participate in the debate and help make other points of view prevail. Otherwise, if D&P itself acquiesces to too many compromises through the voice of its official spokespersons, how will these bishops and other concerned groups or individuals be able to defend D&P in spite of itself?
So that is the climate and the very special circumstances that have sent the crisis on its current tangent, one that is absolutely surreal, as if it were taking place in a fictional universe. Fear can often cause that. So let us stop being afraid and go back to the facts which the examination has cavalierly avoided, specifically with respect to what some D&P partners are being accused of. Having made this preliminary remark, I will go on to the main pointessence of the present reflection, the discussion of nihil obstat, a measure which some bishops seem to take as the only possible solution to the current crisis, disregarding all other sets of measures to improve D&P’s operations, an attitude which appears suspect at the very least.
There again, the exercise won’t be worth much except insofar as D&P will be able to have some CCCB interlocutors or representatives who open to the reality of D&P and the peoples of the Global South, who are capable of conceiving a Church mission that is still situated in the world (a prerequisite for any position that goes against the flow or not on a specific issue) and not entrenched behind their ramparts, and thus concerned with genuine discernment. Because, for the most radical bishops, the prevailing logic seems to be the logic of power or money. “Money talks,” noted candidly (and courageously) the Most Rev. Claude Champagne, Bishop of Edmundston—who also sits on the National Council of D&P—in an interview on Proximo (Radio Ville-Marie) on June 11, 2011. Rough translation: “Those who have the most money will be the ones who are right.” Under these conditions, no other kind of argument will count or be able to ultimately prevail with these bishops. Unless there is a fortunate (but improbable) surprise to the contrary, I don’t think they will be able or willing to reconsider their positions. Their outlook and way of thinking would seem to prevent them from doing so. But, then, are we still in a Church whose “cornerstone,” Jesus, ultimate expression of the gratuitousness of God, identified first and foremost with the poor (Mt. 25), or are we in a shareholders’ meeting, in which the number of votes assigned to each is determined by the relative importance of the funds invested?
If these bishops were to persist in their aim, my personal opinion would be that D&P should adopt, with great regret but unequivocally, the following position: that D&P renounce receiving funds from their dioceses, considering the absolute priority of preserving its integrity, which is not “for sale,” which is not negotiable! To paraphrase the Gospel: it is better that D&P find itself one-armed or one-eyed than to lose everything, than to lose its soul. We would certainly suffer major repercussions in the short to medium term, but it would have been worth it. D&P could then proceed more confidently and more freely on its way, accompanied only by the bishops and dioceses who would have liked to trust it in the first place, as in any genuine partnership, on a common mission, refusing to pervert or caricature it!
2. Some critical arguments on the impasse of the nihil obstat “solution” and the dissolution of the integrity of D&P that it implies
“It is important to preserve the independence of Development and Peace in the struggle to build an ethical public, a struggle in which we, as Christian men and women, are involved as citizens. If D&P remains within the narrow confines of the fundamentalist Catholic position, it will be the end of its contribution to participatory human development.” (Reaction to the crisis at Development and Peace by Francisco De Roux, Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of Colombia, long-standing friend of D&P and former director of CINEP, a partner of D&P up until about three years ago)
I will be putting forward various kinds of arguments against the nihil obstat option: practical, political, of principle and, in some cases, even theological. Some will overlap or echo the objections that were unanimously set out by the Program Officers for international development at D&P in a letter addressed to the President of the National Council and the Executive Director last April
26, a letter that was of course based on their expertise and daily relationship with the Organization’s partners. I will present these arguments in regards to the issue of partnership, closely connected to the criteria of genuine development as well as in regards to the type of “ecclesiality” implemented by D&P’s work, particularly with respect to co-responsibility in the Church. Finally, I will conclude with a few considerations about the identity of D&P, which is being challenged by the measure in question and the indication of a more promising and respectful path for both D&P’s mission and its partners.
1) A beautiful flower from the development of D&P: partnership and networking
Refusing the nihil obstat policy is neither gratuitous nor negative at the outset. It is a “no” that wants to make possible a “yes,” a “yes” to continuing a big progress in development practice and the struggle for social and environmental justice: partnership and networking. Partnership represents an important and exemplary surpassing of traditional assistencialism—which is nothing more than a form of prolonging colonialism—and the “hypocritical backstabbing” side of some of the more modern strategies of exploitation (despite the sometimes good intentions of the participants). The promoters and profiteers of neoliberal globalization, for example, adapt very well to a philanthropy that leaves unjust structures intact, a philanthropy with no designs on achieving any sort of liberation, thus promising only endless dependency for the “losers.”
We know very well how D&P came to have its desire for solidarity become expressed and embodied in the concept called “partnership.” This was no longer paternalistic assistance based on a donor/beneficiary relationship of dependency, and designed as an aid to the poor in order to cope with their own problems, problems that the “caregivers” would not have had anything to do with. Partnership was instead meant to be the translation of co-responsibility with regards to common problems and challenges. As a result, analyses had to be conducted jointly and decisions made together on the basis of mutual trust and shared criteria. The financial relationship was put into context and integrated into a more comprehensive and greater relationship that called on partners to become involved in their own grassroots struggles for social change here and there. Something of this approach has been present since the foundation of D&P (e.g., no staff in the Third World, the importance of education and working to eradicate the causes of ill-development right here in Canada, etc.). This approach is in the genes of the Organization and it has never stopped developing it. It explains in large part why D&P has come to be in the forefront of the development effort conceived as joint liberation, and why its leadership in this field is so widely recognized.
The relevance of partnership stands out even more clearly in the current context. In point of fact, the dominant model, neoliberalism, systematically rejects all international economic relationships that could possibly call into question the sacrosanct rule of unlimited competition. No need to dwell further on the fact that partnership towers prophetically and for the common good of humanity against the tide of this neoliberal “dictatorship.”
To my way of thinking, theologically speaking, partnership is potentially a kind of “sacrament” or contextual translation of the solidarity of God, never paternalistic, but calling the people to a state of mutual dignity, to what the Bible calls “covenant.” John Paul II recognized solidarity as being a theological virtue (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, No. 40), or having to do with the very way of being of this God that Christian men and women, from the first centuries, say “trinitarian,” that is to say, “community solidarity.” It is that kind of conception of solidarity-partnership anchored in the depth of a sense of humanity and its transcendence that inhabits the members and staff of D&P. That is what explains their dismay at any potential threat to this orientation of D&P, to the point that, for a great many of them, once this characteristic is lost, it would no longer be worthwhile to be active in an organization that has become like any other.
Partnership also has another component, which is working in networks, hence consultations and alliances. The aim of a “civilization of love” (Paul VI, John Paul II ...) or of solidarity cannot take any path other than the one of solidarity. The term must already be part and parcel of the very texture of any path that moves towards it. The alter-globalization [“alternative globalization” or “alter-mundialization”] movement, whose main actors are civil society organizations, illustrates this perspective well. It emphasizes the logic of the network, of the horizontal approach, equal and plural participation, and thus convergence, rather than the logic of hierarchy and centralization, usually imposed from the outside according to a single “global architecture” more attuned to homogenizing domination than democratic and integral development.
In practice, this means that, given the extent of the obstacles to achieving political or structural changes that would better reflect the common good, groups join forces in networks that are sometimes stable, sometimes in a state of flux, around certain objectives, and they experiment with new, more humane ways of being a society. This does not at all imply, however, that a particular group espouses all of the projects and values of other components of the network.
Now then, the origin of (or rather the pretext for) the current crisis consisted specifically of allegations concerning some groups that were either part of the same networks as some D&P partners or, even more tenuously, were “associated” with our partners fortuitously because they were attending the same awards-distribution assembly or else were sitting on the same panel chosen specifically for its diversity (e.g., PRODH). In any case, there is no cause in that for any substantial criticism with respect to Development and Peace partners, certainly no cause to disavow them or to abandon a policy of partnership. This does not mean that there is no legitimate place for continuous improvements in the process of choosing partners (which can sometimes be networks themselves, set up for specific projects), and in accompanying the programs of these partners. D&P and the CCCB “Ad Hoc” Committee, which became Standing Committee for Development and Peace in the fall of 2010, have been working along those lines since 2009, although admittedly partially and laboriously.
Finding groups “guilty by association” as practiced by LSN makes no sense. If it did, the CCCB itself would have to be put on trial for some of its actions. A few examples will suffice to show the hallucinatory absurdity of this type of allegation. Thus, what would the bishops say if they were accused of being pro-choice because they sometimes have partnerships or carry out joint actions with the Protestant churches (such as the case of the joint letter with the Canadian Council of Churches in the last federal election campaign), when one or more of these churches could also hold pro-choice positions or at least positions different from the Catholic Church’s position on abortion? Similarly, certain ecclesial bodies (dioceses, CCCB, religious communities, etc.) make financial investments. They necessarily find themselves in the company of other shareholders at the general meeting of a particular company in which they participate. They then have the duty to question the projects or investments of the company on an ethical level. That said, however, should they be held guilty for the investments that their fellow shareholders make in other companies (e.g., weapons for export, over-exploitation of employees, products harmful to health, and even the production of contraceptives [!], etc.), beyond the moral obligation, for example, to question these fellow shareholders in another place?
2) Adverse impacts of nihil obstat on partnership and development
Let’s take this opportunity to take at look at the many pitfalls that could arise from adopting a policy that would give the bishops of the South discretionary and binding power over the partners and programs of D&P from which there is no appeal.
● In terms of criteria, first of all, it is said that the decision of whether or not to grant a nihil obstat to them (the partners and groups) would be based on their conformity to the teaching of the Church (including its social teaching). Not only is this criterion rather vague and therefore subject to interpretation (I’ll come back to that later), but the Church is presenting itself first as a “lesson-giver,” which is questionable not only because of its often lacklustre history in that regard, but also because it is a second reality, which only makes sense in light of what should precede: witnessing the unfathomable and boundless love or solidarity of God like the first moment of the Gospel announcement. Afterwards can come the explanations, a certain “teaching,” etc. But in the case that concerns us, the witnessing has disappeared; the only thing that remains is the figure of the omnipotent Judge. So the teaching can do no better than obscure the Gospel or else appear alien to it, because the Gospel has also disappeared as primary reference. As a single measure to be substituted for any collective decision-making, the power of the nihil obstat is a counter-witness in that it rolls back the image of God to that of a medieval monarch or potentate acting only at his “pleasure” or will, according to a logic of power.
The interpretation of the criterion put forward is already problematic insofar as it depends solely on either the personal and ideological positions or personal interests of the bishops involved.
● If it is a question of moral teaching concerning sexuality, human reproduction and abortion, independent here of any judgment on the core of the problem, the case of PRODH is very instructive on the personal and contextual variables that may come into play in the mandate given to local bishops. It would seem that the Federal District of Mexico City is the only place in Mexico where abortion has been decriminalized. Now then, PRODH also works in the rest of the country. The Archbishop of Mexico probably wants abortion to remain criminalized there. Are his criticisms of PRODH related to this issue itself or simply to the fact that this organization works in networks where other organizations have positions more favourable to decriminalization?
There is also a question of consistency and courage for the Canadian bishops. I think that it is important to consider, at least on this issue, that in 1989, when the Mulroney government introduced Bill C-43 decriminalizing abortion by submitting its practice to the decision of a doctor who had to take into account the life and health of the mother, the CCCB, while reaffirming the position of the Church, chose not to formally oppose the bill. Even assuming that a member of a partnership or a network involving a partner of D&P may have acted along those lines, can they be blamed, especially in a context of violence and serious human rights violations, particularly against women, like what is currently occurring in Mexico? In any case, how can we ignore the CCCB Committee of Inquiry chaired by the Most Rev. Lapierre who, after having researched the facts, concluded about the groups he met in Mexico: “They sought to prevent abortion and to defend life in an integral fashion.” Shouldn’t we provide ourselves with a more adequate means of getting to the bottom of things instead of issuing long-distance condemnations based only on the opinion of a local bishop, and I say this in all respect.
One can also take into consideration that ideological differences between the bishop and the partners involved can place the latter at an undeserved disadvantage. Programs could also be submitted, for example, to views that either completely lack understanding of the meaning and intrinsic value of the programs, or are extremely conservative, and so, in both cases, in conflict with both the gesture of solidarity of Catholics or other Canadian citizen donors as well as with the current local partners. It is also known that certain Church authorities are very close to economic and political leaders who abuse their power and networks supported by D&P could find themselves in conflict with them.
Finally, wouldn’t the approach being considered encourage the temptation, subtle or not, for some bishops to try to direct aid to their own diocesan projects and to discredit their “competitors” accordingly? In the case of the Archbishop of Mexico City, for example, he (or his representative) would have said in substance to the 2009 CCCB delegation that if Development and Peace had directed its donations towards the works in his diocese instead, it would not have had such problems! To what extent can we be assured that the opinion of this Archbishop expressed in his recent letter to the Most Rev. Prendergast about PRODH and Father Luis Arriaga was not dictated by that kind of motivation?
● But let’s take a closer look at the problems that can be anticipated in applying the criterion of conformity to the Church's broader social teaching to a partner or a program and the impact on the orientations of development and partnership, which are at the heart of the work of D&P. The basic positions of bishops vary considerably from one to another. In my view, some Southern bishops, often comfortably sheltered in the shade of the powerful, are light years away from the vision of development proposed by every pope since Paul VI (including Benedict XVI, who recognized the overwhelming requirement that the poor be recognized as the primary subjects of their own development) and translated into action by D&P. Development efforts would then be subject to their narrow views or the more than questionable motivations of those bishops. On the other hand, I have no doubt that many bishops in the Global South have fully integrated this vision of development advocated by the social teaching of the Church and have even already anticipated further progress. There is an important difference there.
In the first case, we could be dealing with bishops who, even in good faith, would regress towards traditionalist conceptions of development. Such a shift also would bring us back to the days of “good works” where the poor had to beg for a certificate of good moral conduct from their parish priest to qualify for assistance. It would mean going back to the arbitrary distinction between the “good” poor and the “bad” poor! To illustrate the inconsistency of certain decisions, let’s consider one instructive precedent: the Archbishop of Mexico City was able to discredit the PRODH Centre, even though it was recognized as an outstanding carrier of the social teaching of the Church, and condemn its director, Father Arriaga, who himself acts as an advisor on social issues to a Mexican Episcopal Commission!
Beyond the formal placet (or nihil obstat) ruling that has to be obtained, as soon as one starts digging into the eventual process of the bishops examining potential partners and programs, we come face-to-face with the very development criteria proposed by the social teaching of the Church. We are then confronted with the issues of structures to change, aiming for the common good, respect for human dignity, the people’s active and democratic participation in projects affecting them, a preferential option for the poor so that nobody gets left behind, social ecology, consideration of all the dimensions of the human being (“integral development”), etc. Aren’t these the criteria that should take precedence in the decision rather than just the formal agreement of a Church official? I am confident that the views and practices of many bishops violate outright the social teachings that they are supposed to be using as benchmarks! Will we be satisfied with their one and only decision? To what extent can Canadian bishops be assured that, when a bishop from the Global South says that a particular partner of D&P is in accordance or not with the (social or other) teaching of the Church, this viewpoint coincides with their own or even that of the Vatican?
But even in the case of the most progressive bishops who are well aware of the demands of genuine development, our objection is one of principle that goes to the very meaning of partnership and development. They cannot be experienced when entirely dependent upon the judgment without appeal of an outside authority. Both the relationship, or partnership, and the essential nature of the individuals and groups as subjects (and not objects) of development would be contradicted and even rendered meaningless by the existence of such a measure. Moreover, I think that it would undermine the meaning of the relationship of D&P with its members and donors.
One can also easily imagine that the systematic or unexpected intervention of the local bishops with decision-making power over each and every program or partner would be a short-circuiting control, an interference that would make both proved processes and relationships of trust chaotic.
The programs are already subjected to various studies and consultations, both in the South (with other agencies or long-time trusted partners, for example, which may sometimes include a diocesan authority insofar as that diocese is already a stakeholder of a local program seeking outside support) as well as here with specialized committees, and the programs are evaluated both on the basis of the Organization’s guidelines, priorities and the intrinsic value of the projects submitted. Various responsibilities and skills are thus already well orchestrated. To all that must be added the frequent coordination with CIDA, based on the choices of D&P but also obeying a five-year planning that takes into account mutual understanding and a long collaboration. The proposed measure would therefore introduce an arbitrary element that would run counter to the spirit of joint cooperation essential to integral development. The recent case of the intervention of the Harper government through Minister Bev Oda regarding a CIDA grant to the inter-church organization Kairos is very eloquent on the impertinence of abusive interference in the well-founded democratic or administrative processes connected to development issues.
In addition, this arbitrary paternalism would have the effect of infantilizing the development actors and their role. Quite the opposite, then, of the contemporary movement of the rise of civil society as subject or actor, a providential counterweight to the current neoliberal collusion between the major decision-makers from the marketplace and those from the State. A denial of citizenship in both the Church and society. A sort of return to the Ancien Régime in which the arbitrary prevailed over reason and ethics.
● I would like to introduce here a final argument (with theological accents) for this section and to which I will return later from another angle. To give special weight, blindly and a priori, solely to the point of view of a given Southern bishop, giving precedence to it over all other considerations, is to make it a “sacred cow,” an idol! And I am weighing my words carefully here. In the biblical tradition, the idol is recognized as demanding unfair sacrifices. Here, the nihil obstat measure, as some bishops would like to impose it, would happily sacrifice everything presented above: development actors, proven processes, partnership relations, multiple reports (accountability), development itself and, especially, the poor and oppressed themselves, not only by making them pay the cost of interrupting D&P’s support but also by being relegated to becoming the objects of development rather than being its subjects. Ironically, the Bishops of Canada who have themselves always refrained from exercising direct and absolute control over D&P for well-founded reasons, and continue to say that they won`t do so, are perhaps getting ready to give that control to some Southern bishops, indirectly by subcontracting it out... That will be cheaper (both politically and ecclesiastically)!
3) Other implications of a policy of nihil obstat
Finally, let’s take a look at a few other implications of a nihil obstat policy, specifically, for the vision or direction of the Church that is thus being advocated, for the identity of D&P, as well as the sacrificial process which ended up with such a result.
Repudiation of ecclesial co-responsibility
There would be a whole chapter to start on the model of the Church underlying the current situation. I will limit myself to three remarks.
(1) Absolutizing the viewpoint of a bishop as the sole decisive authority in evaluating the partners and programs of D&P in its commitment to an integral development in solidarity is not only a denial of citizenship in society but also in the Church. It is contradictory to the meaning of the Church as God’s people, where they are obliged to exercise various responsibilities on the basis of the very diversity of the charisms given by the Spirit for its mission. This is a repudiation of ecclesial co-responsibility and, by implication, of Vatican II.
(2) Two extracts seem particularly significant in the design that they seek to establish here and which will de facto transform the laity into simple executors of technical tasks with no participation in the interpretation of the faith or in decisions concerning its political or social implications. I have already quoted above the advocacy of Archbishop Collins (Toronto) in favour of the nihil obstat measure to the effect that, in addition to a matter of “natural courtesy,” the approval of “projects that we fund” by the “local bishop or the bishops’ conference” was a matter of “the way the Church is structured.” To that, I add the following excerpt from a letter from the Most Rev. Pierre Morissette, President of the CCCB, to Sister Mary Finlayson, President of the CRC: “[...] what is important for the Canadian bishops and Development and Peace, is that the PRODH Centre does not receive the full support of the local bishop in Mexico.”
I understand by this that responsibility in the Church has been retracted into the Episcopal body alone as the one true actor. That it is only place where there may be a relationship of trust. Significant, isn’t it? Note also the highly formal judgment on the situation: everything hinges on the sole word of a bishop as a bishop. Finally, I would also point out that what needs to “matter to the Canadian bishops,” to paraphrase the Most Rev.Morissette, this should not at the outset be the viewpoint of the local bishop but above all the truth and therefore a more substantial and participatory evaluation of the partners and programs covered. For caritas, as the encyclical Caritas in Veritate notes, cannot disregard the truth.
(3) Finally, faced with the argument of the absolute necessity of the local bishop for an outside Church intervening indirectly in the territory corresponding to his diocese by the support of partners, I think that it can be achieved through means other than that of veto power and nihil obstat, as I will discuss later. But is it not appropriate to recall here that the people and groups (including secular) who live or work in the territories concerned do not belong to the bishops of the place? Faith, like citizenship, implies a basic freedom. An ecclesiocentric or episcopocentric vision would be contradictory with the mission aimed at witnessing salvation for the world and in the world.
Dissolution of the identity of D&P
Given everything in D&P’s work that is threatened by the possible measure of nihil obstat, I do not think it necessary to dwell at length on the dissolution of the mission and identity of the organization that would result from the implementation of such a policy. Let’s approach the issue from a different angle than the one adopted above.
That kind of identity is the result of a long gestation process carried out in an environment of creative fidelity that is still ongoing. It is a delicate balance of evangelical and ecclesial references and strong policies, a profoundly integrated mission and spirit, working in concert in networks of solidarity and trust that have been patiently built and tested, processes of education and responsible management that have been constantly adjusted and institutionalized, a slow but profound intergenerational transmission of values, etc. D&P has become a real player in a prophetic way of being both Church and society. And this initiative has turned into a flagship movement, broadly participatory, for a civil society that is starting off on its own towards another world that is possible—and necessary.
Personally, D&P was my school of Christian social engagement. It took over from the great prophets of the 1960s and 1970s (H. Camara, Paul VI with Populorum Progressio, Dom Fragoso, Church and Liberation Theology ...) that summoned my youth and my desire to serve, which infused me with the dynamism of a Gospel opening up onto broader horizons. So I was induced to work for D&P for 11 years starting in 1974 before pursuing similar work in the theological field, both at the university and with groups of the same mind engaged here or internationally. And since I left university, my only new commitment has been at D&P, this time on the Theology Committee.
Today, I watch with dismay and disbelief as the very founders of D&P ready themselves to destroy this wonderful construction with a careless kick. The dynamics of D&P could not survive the permanent installation over its head of the Sword of Damocles of nihil obstat. Why? What we have learned about the causes of mal-development sheds light on this. This phenomenon arises essentially from a foreign logic taking over the internal development processes to divert them for the benefit of some outside interest. The essential internal synergy is thereby broken, thus leaving each element disconnected and adrift.
With the possibility of an Episcopal veto constantly hanging overhead, the work of D&P would lose its own consistency and credibility. Ultimately, it could be replaced by a post office box where the funding requests would pile up to be managed by a few robots scurrying around to get the green light for some puppet-partners and forward payment orders. The utopia of perfect Church control is finally achieved and... in vain! CIDA certainly would no longer want to do business with such an organization; the members would leave for more significant movements, and the majority of donors would sanely cease to fund such a parody of a solidarity organization. That is how oppressive regimes “break” the resisters, in prisons, for example, like Nelson Mandela experienced, by constantly submitting them to the arbitrary and unpredictable, or by imposing repetitive and absurd tasks, such as breaking rocks indefinitely for nothing.
What I mean by that is, placed at the mercy of a single decisional outside will, the work of D&P would soon become ridiculous, empty and without interest. Imposing the requirement of nihil obstat would not just amount to a formal permanent trusteeship or tutelage of D&P, but would also lead to its dislocation and dissolution. Unrecognizable, become but a shadow of itself, I think that the Organization would quickly disappear. Moreover, these are visions of a future of Development and Peace in which it is not worthwhile for the movement to continue. There are options that cannot be negotiable.
The nihil obstat measure: result of a sacrificial or scapegoat process
The imposition of the rule of nihil obstat as unique and decisive “checkpoint” of D&P’s international work seems so disproportionate to the Organization’s situation that one cannot help suspecting that it is more a response to other issues and interests and it just so happens that D&P and its partners and programs have to pay the price.
In fact, I fear a process as old as the world itself, that of a cascade of biased agreements between two parties at the expense of a third party, or the scapegoat mechanism, which, according to the thinker René Girard, Christian revelation—through biblical tradition—has rightly revealed the fallacious and sacrificial character. This process could, for example, have as actors: (1) a first duo, LifeSiteNews (to be silenced) and the CCCB, at the expense of truth, Development and Peace, essential elements of its identity and mission and ultimately, the people of the Global South (2) on the same level and with the same consequences, a second pair: the need for the CCCB to “show their credentials” vis-à-vis the Vatican and its new and very questionable political control and reorientation of Catholic NGOs, with the sad illustration being the recent and scandalous case of Caritas Internationalis, (3) and another one: some bishops or groups of bishops in the CCCB, whose “unity” would be preserved at the expense of D&P; (4) Finally, harmony (and the continued payment of funds) between the CCCB and D&P at the expense, this time, of D&P’s partners, as has already happened with PRODH and NMJD.
This raises some questions that we have to talk about among ourselves concerning also our own attitude: Are we, as an organization, in the process of “buying peace” by “sacrificing” the poor and those who defend them? False peaces are merciless idols with which we must not compromise. The only experience to date of the nihil obstat policy was, predictably, a total failure. Based on the simple and vicious allegations of LSN and an ambiguous and undocumented advisory by the Archbishop of Mexico, the Archbishop of Ottawa and D&P’s management (with the support of the CCCB) immediately broke with the PRODH organization and cavalierly sent its representative home. This can only make one fear for the worst in future situations covered by the announced measure and with the potential of a bishop to refuse to give his “placet” to a potential partner.
There is nothing in our performance so far of which to be proud. D&P did not conduct itself like a real partner. It only pretended to be a partner! In the eyes of the members of D&P, this partner, PRODH, and NMJD, were “released” or “sold out” dirt cheap, for a “fistful of dollars” or, if you will, under threat by certain dioceses to withhold funds collected during Share Lent. Yet solidarity and partnership, like dignity, are priceless!
3. Conclusion: another path and some appeals
In conclusion, I would like to start off by suggesting that there are other possible ways that Canadian bishops can use to support D&P and these other ways are certainly more respectful of the integrity of this jewel of the Canadian Catholic Church. Then I will make some appeals.
It is not a question of preventing a healthy evolution, which moreover has always been done at Development and Peace, but never, to my knowledge, with a gun held to its his head like the present. It is against the background of the preceding—and other elements can certainly be added to complete it—that we must evaluate and reject, it seems to me, the forced policy of requesting a nihil obstat from the Southern bishops concerned. If there is a sound discernment to be made, it should not be done in haste or according to unilaterally fixed modalities. It could thus start with a review of motives and objectives then continue, if necessary, with extensive research on all of its international commitments (beyond a few potentially problematic cases) by making use of all the actors, including the Southern bishops. The partners of D&P, for example, should be heard, which would be the least of requirements.
What will we end up with? That remains to be seen. But when talking about the involvement of local bishops in the regular course of things, given the confessional nature of D&P and given, in some cases, a real engagement of diocesan Churches in the development programs, connected to D&P or not, one would certainly not a priori rule out that the bishops should be informed and consulted as well, along with other interlocutors, but without their point of view prevailing unduly. The consultation of bishops, however, could be limited to cases of new partners (and not existing partners) and when establishing new programs in a region.
D&P should also stick to the position that any new proposal concerning itself that stems from current negotiations with the CCCB Standing Committee must first be carefully studied at the appropriate levels of the Organization (including the bodies that involve direct participation by members) and subject to possible modifications (or else its withdrawal if its modalities turned out to be harmful). Similarly, the National Council should be directly involved in setting the terms of the above-mentioned potential field research.
Finally, the case of recently ousted partners should absolutely be reconsidered, along with efforts currently underway to address the issues raised by new policies and procedures. This goes to the very meaning of the partnership already entered into with them and thus the integrity of the Organization.
I will close with a few appeals.
● First, to the members of D&P:
Circumstances have now given us—or imposed upon us—the occasion to experience something of the reality and challenges that our partners in the Global South suffer continuously and with greater intensity. We now have to show that we are up to the challenge of this unexpected form of solidarity and learn a new courage. Let’s continue our work, an expression of our reality as a movement, by adding to our analyses and criticisms the underlying reasons for our attachment to what D&P has become. That is also where our strength—moral and spiritual—lies, drawn from the Gospel that inspires our commitments. In what is now happening to the Organization, we can make the difference between the crushing of D&P and a new momentum. Our vitality and dynamism is the first thing that will make our representatives strong.
● Next, to the National Council and other representative bodies of D&P:
Please, do not give in to intimidation or to the one-shot “solutions” that a priori obey positions and interests more than any fidelity to real situations. They are the result of bishops who ignore their CCCB colleagues, who are supporters of an “authoritarian” Church government, and who are obsessed with two or three valid questions onto which they have made the mistake of focusing the entire teaching of the Church. How could we recognize ourselves in them?
Whether it be through the introduction of the policy of nihil obstat or some other means, please be careful and do not become the “gravediggers” of Development and Peace`s identity, fruit of the work of solidarity with so many partners (including members of the Organization) at home and in the South, led by the Spirit “who renews the face of the Earth!” May this Spirit inhabit you throughout your deliberations. And despite the pressure, may it give you the courage of creative fidelity, the only force capable of moving all of us forward.
In my view, we face the risk that members of the CCCB Standing Committee and the D&P Liaison Committee will yield to pressure from right-wing extremist bishops, despite their own more moderate position and conscience, and this will trigger a collapse of incalculable consequences. Human history has experienced great misfortunes because of lack of firmness or the passivity of those who saw things differently, but nevertheless yielded and thus gave free rein to those with different purposes and… who were more determined.
With respect to the Report A Time of Grace (2010), which is being studied by the National Council and will be considered as a discussion paper with the CCCB Standing Committee: while certain elements of the diagnosis still seem valid and could contribute to the negotiations, I would be of the opinion that a great many of the recommendations, if not the majority of them, should be reconsidered, either because they have been overtaken by the events of 2011, or because they are irrelevant or even unacceptable. To stick with them for discussions with the CCCB or else to adopt them at next November’s National Council would be, I think, inappropriate, inconsistent with the diagnosis of the situation, and dangerous.
● Finally, to the CCCB Standing Committee for D&P and the CCCB itself:
Whether it be directly or through its Standing Committee, the CCCB must, in my opinion, refrain from the temptation to act according to a simple logic of power. Putting Development and Peace on the defensive, combined with the position of certain bishops who only fall back on their “authority” and the threat of withdrawing financial support from the diocesan Churches, could derail one of the finest, strongest and most significant achievements of the Canadian Church.
As borne witness by the teachings of St. Paul and the entire New Testament on wisdom and folly, on strength and weakness, the proclamation of the Gospel follows a different logic. Revelations does not say anything different: “I have opened in front of you a door that no one will be able to close—and I know that though you are not very strong, you have kept my commandments and not disowned my name.” (Rev 3, 8, emphasis added). I profoundly believe that Development and Peace, through its work of solidarity pursued against all odds, has announced the Name of this God “Trinity,” that is to say, community or solidarity (a virtue and a model of humanity that find their archetype in “the intimate life of God” Himself, according to John Paul II (SRS, No. 40)], that it has acted as “image” of this God. I cannot dare to imagine that it will be reversed or altered by its own Church rather than by the forces of anti-solidarity besetting the world today.
On the other hand, and here I am speaking specifically to all the bishops, to our pastors: if you want to tell us that you have erred and you have misled us by engaging us on the path proposed by the Second Vatican Council, by the subsequent social encyclicals, and, finally, by your own social messages since then; if you want to tell us that you are now deciding to abandon us on this path, then you could not express yourselves more clearly than by imposing on Development and Peace the rule of nihil obstat that must be received from local bishops in the Global South concerning its partners and programs. That would be an eloquent gesture in that regard. That is how we would understand it, as would as well the entire Catholic social movement in which Development and Peace is a standard bearer second to none!
Member of the Theology Committee of Development and Peace
September 15, 2011
 Which was done immediately in the case of PRODH.
 Ecclesiastical, legal and political circles sometimes use an equivalent term, the word placet, which means “it pleases” or “it is considered good.” Like nihil obstat, the word placet indicates an approval, an authorization.
 This document is discussed in further detail in another text (Des enjeux de fond dans la crise à D&P) on this blog by the quartet responsible for it. I am personally struck by the contrast between, on the one hand, the relatively critical comments of the Report regarding LSN and the measures that elements of the CCCB would like to impose on D&P, and on the other hand, the content of the great many recommendations that lean towards a nearly unreserved submission to the wishes of the CCCB committee. The status of this Report is also somewhat imprecise. It was tabled and discussed at the National Council meeting in November 2010. There is an acceptance in principle of its contents without its many recommendations having been adopted. At the June 2011 meeting, only Recommendation No. 7 was passed and it was decided to make this Report one of the discussion documents with the CCCB Standing Committee. It is thus an important working document that is still active. Recommendation No. 7 states: “To immediately implement a protocol of establishing links in the countries where we have partners and projects; and that we maintain on-going links with individual local bishops. These relationships could provide a valuable communication link at the local level that would serve both D&P and the CCCB; the CCCB has indicated its willingness to assist us in establishing these contacts; it was also suggested that this relationship with Episcopal Conferences be made more evident (such as in D&P reports, publications, and on the D&P website).” The recommendation was followed by this note: “it is NOT our view that Bishops’ Conferences or individual bishops would hold a veto or perform any “approval mechanism” or “external review” or “oversight” role for our projects. The locus of accountability must always remain with D&P which is accountable to the CCCB, our members, our donors and CIDA. That said, it is agreed that the Southern Bishops can provide a valuable source of local information and a unique perspective on partners and projects to alert Project Officers of any concerns” (p. 6).
 Including Caritas Internationalis and its 165 member organizations. D&P also wears the Caritas Canada “hat”.
 Named after the Czech writer Kafka. Said of situations reminiscent of the oppressive or confining atmosphere of Kafka's novels.
 I tried, on behalf of the Theology Committee, to express the meaning of this remarkable journey in November
2009 in a text entitled: The prophetic trajectory of Development and Peace: A flower blossoms in the fertile ground of the Church’s social teachings (in French: La trajectoire prophétique de Développement et Paix: une fleur ecclésiale poussée dans le champ toujours en germination de l’enseignement social de l’Église), 26 pages. This document is supposed to have been placed on the D&P website.
 Hence, the Diocese of Ottawa, if we are to judge by the declaration of the delegate from this diocese at the June 2011 National Council, was threatening to withhold its contribution to D&P if PRODH was reinstated as a partner of the Organization. Yet, if the Archbishop were ever to change his mind about PRODH, he would not “lose face,” according to the popular expression, but would come out of the episode with greater prestige. Moreover, for those bishops who exercise blackmail through the lever of withholding funds for D&P, one might wonder what makes them so unresponsive to the more militant progress of international cooperation and its implications for the poor. Would this be due to a conception of development assistance and “charity” like the one that prevailed in the 1950s, when the first “Development Decade” was decreed by the UN?
 In the case of PRODH and NMJD, for example, D&P did not at all follow its own Recommendation No. 3, mentioned in the Report “... A Moment of Grace” submitted to the National Council in November 2010. It failed its own test: “To articulate a discernment process that is fair to and respectful of our partners where issues of concern arise and preparation of an “exit strategy” for terminating partnerships is also recommended” (p. 4, emphasis added). How can we not go back over this summary execution and attempt to repair this injustice?
 Philippe Vaillancourt, "Développement et Paix: Mgr. Champagne se questionne sur l’avenir," (http://www.radiovm.com/Proximo/Nouvelles.aspx?/=8998).
 LSN had already suggested that money from the faithful sent to D&P be returned to them!
 See, for example, on the subject of this evolution, the account of the report entitled Partnership: Tool of Solidarity in the Struggle for Integral Development, and the reflection on this issue by the National Council of March
1991 in “Partnership: A Tool of Solidarity”, Information, No. 74, May 1991, p. 1.
 And even if a partner of D&P had made a mistake or sinned, what about a possible pardon and eventual course correction? Has forgiveness disappeared from the Church? What would Christianity be without forgiveness, the great “sacrament” of God's gratuitousness? Unless forgiveness is reserved only for the abuses committed by Church officials or dignitaries—they deserve to be obligingly “covered” or even more to avoid any “scandal?”
 Interview on Radio Ville-Marie published in Proximo, May 14, 2011. When the Archbishop of Ottawa, the Most Reverend Prendergast, encourages members, staff and partners of D&P who do not strictly follow the Church's teaching on “life” to “go work somewhere else,” I think he is really aiming at the wrong target. It is an unfair accusation. Moreover, one can recognize in that the substance, if not the terms, of the accusation of “moral relativism,” an argument at the forefront of the Christian religious right which, mixing evangelization and inquisition, leads a cabal or crusade of “purification” in the name of a so-called “Catholic identity” (see Jean-Claude Leclerc, “Les évêques tiennent à Développement et Paix. L’archevêque d’Ottawa incite les protestataires à partir” [The bishops are committed to Development and Peace. The Archbishop of Ottawa encourages protestors to leave], Le Devoir, July 4, 2011, an article that echoes an earlier interview by Archbishop Prendergast to the Canadian Catholic Times newspaper).
 Caritas in Veritate, No. 47.
 Development is not primarily a relationship to things, but a relationship with others which includes goods and the joint search for conditions that enable everyone to have access to a life that God dreams of for his children (integral development).
 Quoted on pp. 5–6 of the Report "A Time of Grace."
 See in this matter the penetrating analysis of Vincent Cosmao, o.p., Changer le monde, une tâche pour l’Église, Paris, Cerf, 1981.
 I know certain people who, discouraged by the attitude of the CCCB, have already taken this step. And one association, Fonds Solidarité Sud (FSS), has just officially withdrawn from D&P, which it was supporting exclusively.