By David Naglieri
TORONTO, JUNE 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Nearly four months since the international development arm of Canada’s episcopal conference was accused of having funded pro-abortion groups in Mexico, the agency has been cleared of the allegations.
Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of Canada’s episcopal conference, confirmed to ZENIT that a report will be sent to the bishops of Canada this week that will vindicate Development and Peace from complicity in programs supporting and promoting abortion.
The report, which followed an investigation of five Mexican partner agencies that have received Development and Peace funds, is also expected to lead the bishops to evaluate their pro-life leadership in Canada and the protocols followed by Development and Peace.
The agency is also the Canadian member of Caritas Internationalis.
“I can tell you that the bishops’ visit found no evidence that Development and Peace was in any way implicated in abortion services or abortion advocacy,” said the archbishop, who heads the Winnipeg Archdiocese. “[But] that really wasn’t the allegation being made. The allegation is that they are funding people who are involved in other ways, and we found no evidence of that, either.”
Archbishop Weisgerber acknowledged that some of the agency’s partners are collaborating on separate projects with groups that adhere to principles opposed to Catholic teaching. He insisted, though, that the support given by Development and Peace is directed to specific projects that are not in violation of the Church’s position on abortion and contraception.
The report is based on a fact-finding trip to Mexico from April 15-18 conducted by officials from the bishops’ conference and Development and Peace. The agency’s involvement in an investigation of its own partners has raised concerns about objectivity, but the archbishop dismissed those fears, saying that Development and Peace simply facilitated the visit and had no role in the writing of the report.
After being viewed by bishops this week, the report will soon be made available to the general public and then be debated in October during the bishops’ plenary assembly.
The controversy erupted in March when a pro-life Web site launched an investigation alleging that Development and Peace was funding pro-abortion partners in Mexico. The claims eventually grew to include numerous other partners operating in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The charges led several Canadian bishops, including Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, to withhold donations raised during the Lenten fundraising campaign until the accusations were thoroughly investigated.
The dispute was heightened earlier this month when Archbishop Weisgerber received a letter from Archbishop José Eguren, president of the Family, Childhood and Life Commission of Peru’s episcopal conference, demanding that the Canadian agency cease funding pro-abortion groups in Peru.
Archbishop Weisgerber said the letter was initially received by fax from a Vancouver lawyer with the bishop’s name blacked out, and was only later formally sent to the conference. The archbishop noted that the communication was highly irregular considering the long, close partnership between Development and Peace and the Peruvian bishops. The bishops’ conference is still seeking to clarify the claims made in the letter.
According to Archbishop Weisgerber, the Development and Peace controversy served to highlight several important issues in the local Church. He said a vacuum in pro-life leadership has caused many Catholics to turn to Web sites for authoritative information on life issues.
“I think the issue here is, who decides what it really means to be Catholic? And I think this is where we have had a little difficulty when people are going to Web sites to decide what it means to be Catholic rather than turning to the bishops,” he said.
Archbishop Weisgerber says he plans to push for real national leadership on pro-life issues. He was also quick to defend the core principals of Development and Peace and the Church’s commitment to promoting structural change, the elimination of poverty and human rights in the developing world.
“We obviously can’t do those things on our own, so we have to partner with other people. But you have to be careful in the way you partner with other people,” he noted. “Development and Peace wants to work very closely with the bishops to develop new protocols to make sure that their adherence to Catholic principals is more carefully formalized.”
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David Naglieri is a producer with the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television Network. He has been following the investigation of the Development and Peace for the past four months.