Canadian Catholic Author Michael O’Brien on Development and Peace and the Pope’s New Encyclical

O'Brien says CCCB response to LSN reports were "extraordinary over-kill reaction" and "classic damage control, spin doctoring, verbal smoke and mirrors"
Tue Jul 14, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST

Editor's note: This text is excerpted from an analysis of the Pope's latest encyclical originally published on the Michael O'Brien website. See the full analysis, Split in Consciousness: Split in Conscience

July 14, 2009 ( - Pope Benedict's stunning new encyclical Caritas in Veritate cuts across all ideological lines, calling all mankind to an examination of conscience regarding our fundamental approach to the meaning of the human person. ...

To summarize the enormously rich material in this encyclical is a daunting task; indeed it can be properly understood only with careful study and reflection. Yet in essence the Pope is critiquing every form of governance, economics, and culture that denies the humanity of some human beings, be they the pre-birth child or the aged and infirm, or the poor in underdeveloped countries, in fact anyone. For East and West, North and South, an examination of conscience is urgently needed if we hope to avoid the proliferation of untold human misery and historical disasters.

Paramount in the affluent nations will be a radical self-examination of its economics, because, as the Pope notes emphatically: "every economic decision has a moral consequence" (C in V, n. 37), and in the global age every such decision has both a personal and a universal consequence. The encyclical is not only a warning; it is an exhortation to mankind to employ all our vast material resources and intelligence, motivation and imagination, to develop new forms of interaction, commerce, culture, communication that would lead toward genuine progress and communion.

The splits in Western consciousness are much evident in the extraordinary negative reaction to the encyclical that has erupted in so-called liberal and conservative circles. The liberal approach has been to extract from the encyclical the Pope's words regarding the rights of the poor, the worker, the underdeveloped nations, while ignoring what he says about the rights of the unborn child.

The recent scandal involving the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops' social justice arm, Development and Peace, is a case in point. Extensive documented evidence has proved that D & P has been funding organizations that promote abortion rights as part of their agendas in several nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In East Timor, for example, that country's Catholic bishops have struggled with great effort to resist the liberalization of the abortion law, and two of their leading opponents have been pro-abortion feminist organizations that have been funded by the national conference of the bishops of Canada. The bishops' conference of Peru recently sent a letter requesting the bishops of Canada to cease funding pro-abortion organizations in their country. The CCCB and D & P simply could not understand the problem; could not see that sending money to "help the poor" was enabling the destruction of some of the poor. Here is a symptomatic split in consciousness and consequent blurring of conscience, which is the result of reducing the Gospel to one dimension only.

The split has enabled spokesmen for the CCCB and D & P to exonerate themselves by conducting a severely limited in-house "investigation" that resulted in a report that flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence. However, the objective facts remain: the money of good-willed Catholics in Canada is enabling the spread of the "culture of death."

The conference's extraordinary over-kill reaction against news services that reported the scandal is classic damage control, spin doctoring, verbal smoke and mirrors. It bears repeating that the facts are incontrovertible and visible in the naked public square for all to see.

Adding insult to injury, some Catholic periodicals in this country, after an amazingly selective reading of Caritas in Veritate, have declared that the encyclical roundly vindicates the policies of Canada's D & P. If a passage in the Pope's writings seems to confirm their template, then it is extracted out of context and the rest of the Holy Father's teachings are ignored. Little or no heed is paid to his repeated exhortations regarding the right to life, which he underlines in passages such as this:

"If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation, and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology, and, along with it, that of environmental ecology… It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and our practice today; one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society." (n. 51)

In his 1984 interview with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, the cardinal, who was then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, discussed the potential dangers in the rise of national bishops' conferences. He warned that they were vulnerable to manipulation through their "democratic" processes, too easily commandeered by factions with limited sociopolitical and/or flawed ecclesiological agendas. That is exactly what has unfolded in some affluent nations, Canada and Germany being among the more notable examples.

If this sort of ecclesiology posits a national bishops' conference as a kind of functioning "alternative magisterium," it will pay lip service to the office of the Pope, then go about its day to day business pretty much as it pleases, despite the fact that as a body it has no canonical authority over the Faith of Catholics. In genuine ecclesiology, individual bishops exercise their office authentically when they are in full union with "Peter", with the whole mind of the Church, the Mind of Christ. In Canada, the national bishops conference has quietly functioned in another way for the past several decades, sometimes ignoring directives from Rome, sometimes openly pushing contradictory programs, inexorably and "nicely", which is our national norm. In contrast, several individual bishops in this country have lived the authentic ecclesiology, have heroically and apostolically shepherded the flocks in their dioceses, and have been highly supportive of the pro-life movement. Though they are a minority, their numbers are increasing despite a counter-witness of the national conference.

In its social justice policies the CCCB has until very recently been disproportionately weak on the rights of the unborn child and the rights of the family, and in its primary social justice arm, Development and Peace, it has entirely ignored the right to life. D & P's stated policy is mainly focused on the "preferential option for the poor," which it has at times interpreted to mean softer forms of socialist thinking. While it has rightly donated vast sums of money to relieve natural disasters in the underdeveloped nations, and also promoted legitimate development projects, it has frequently lacked careful discernment. It has especially lacked understanding of the integral relationship between love and truth.

Benedict points out that, "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell to be filled in an arbitrary way." (n. 3) He further points out that human rights cannot be compartmentalized: "The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life." (n. 27)

It should be noted that the compartmentalized compassion of D & P once prompted it to fund a violent Marxist revolutionary group in Brazil, a fact documented by the Canadian journalist Elaine Dewar in her 1994 study of environmentalist movements, Cloak of Green. The incident was doubtless an isolated error in judgement, and of course the bishops of Canada do not endorse Marxism. However, they have permitted themselves to be used for other forms of social revolution that do not respect the lives of all the poor, including those poor who are living in the womb. It is precisely this kind of double standard that Caritas in Veritate addresses.

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