Many Priests, Laity and Some Bishops Misled by Development and Peace Misinformation
By John-Henry Westen and Steve Jalsevac (with files from Patrick Craine)
TORONTO, August 6, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The fallout from the tactics used by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) to ward off criticism of their funding of groups involved in abortion advocacy has misled many laity, priests and even some bishops in Canada. Even though the LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) reports have been taken seriously by bishops in Ontario, BC and elsewhere, several prominent clergy, believing the misinformation put out by D&P, have continued to defame LSN. The most concerning assaults on LSN's credibility have come from Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber, the current President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
A prominent priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto has accused LifeSiteNews.com of making "slanderous accusations" against D&P. Friar Rick Riccioli, OFM Conv., former lecturer in pastoral counselling at St. Augustine Seminary in the Toronto School of Theology and pastor of The Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure in Toronto, wrote in a post on his blog that D&P was "under attack," describing LSN as "a right-wing internet website that presents itself as supporting life."
While Fr. Riccioli did admit that the LifeSiteNews "concerns if true would have been shocking," he accepted at face value the counter-claims of D&P and concluded that: "The explanation by D&P is credible and once again shows how people jump to conclusions. It also show [sic] how some so-called Catholic groups don't know how to be in dialogue with others. In fact they are anti-Catholic, trying to muzzle the Church's ability to enter into dialogue, to influence and to lead."
LifeSiteNews.com broke the story about D&P's funding practices in March. The reports were confirmed when, on May 28, the Bishops of Peru - after conducting an independent investigation - wrote a letter to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) asking them to "stop funding pro-abortion groups in our country." LSN's reports were further confirmed by Judie Brown of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who had hired an independent researcher to look into LSN's evidence, and Priests for Life Canada, which after reviewing the evidence, urged the bishops to conduct an investigation independent of D&P.
The limited investigation by the CCCB, involving high-level staff members of D&P itself, resulted in a report on June 29 claiming that the "allegations by Lifesite News" were "not founded on the facts."
In its detailed response to the CCCB report, LSN noted that the two bishops who authored the report were led in their investigations by three D&P officials, and never consulted with LSN. The resulting whitewash report, while not directly attacking LSN, has erroneously left the impression that LSN slandered the Church in Canada. Or, as one Archbishop who was convinced by D&P put it, LSN's accusations were "a malicious attack on this important and sacred work that the Catholic people in Canada do for the poor in the world through Development and Peace."
Despite the fact that the investigative report, released on June 29, was authored by two bishops, certainly not all of Canada's bishops were ready to shoot the messenger and resume business as usual with D&P.
Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, Canada's largest diocese, issued his July 23rd response to the controversy indicating that he would, from now on, permit funds from the archdiocese to go only to groups approved by local bishops in the developing world. Moreover, Archbishop Collins noted that future funding for D&P will be contingent on "thorough review" and "profound renewal" of D&P.
Since then, several bishops have indicated publicly and privately their support for Archbishop Collins' resolution to the situation.
Archbishop Weisgerber revealed the contents of the investigation report on Salt + Light Television on June 19, prior to releasing the report to the majority of Canadian Bishops on whose behalf he acts. He used the opportunity to take jibes at LSN, and other Internet services which had revealed evidence of funding of pro-abortion groups by D&P. In a subsequent interview with Michael Swan of the Catholic Register, he stated: "These bloggers who claim to be more Catholic than anyone - I think first of all they're not part of the church, they're not Catholic in the sense that they have no mandate, they have no authority, they have no accountability. And they speak very, very definitively about what it means to be Catholic, and they're followed by so many people."
More recently, in a recorded television Interview (extensive comments about D&P begin at minute 12:35 into the half hour video) aired July 9 and hosted by Salt & Light CEO Fr. Tom Rosica, Archbishop Weisgerber again claimed that there is no evidence to support the allegation that D&P is funding partners who advocate for abortion.
Archbishop Weisgerber spoke of a vacuum in pro-life leadership in the country, being filled by "websites," "which have a very specific way of looking at things, which I don't think is really Catholic."
In several interviews Archbishop Weisgerber has invoked the authority of the Catholic Church against those publishing the information about D&P and to legitimize a false denial of copious evidence already in the public domain. See an LSN produced video on some of the evidence.
In the interview with Fr. Rosica, Weisgerber put it this way: "It seems that when things appear on websites, they have a truth, simply because they're there, and I mean I don't know these websites, or who owns them, or to whom they are accountable. In the tradition of the Catholic Church, it's very clear that the teaching authority of the Church is the bishop. And I mean if the people do not trust the bishop or the bishops of a country, and prefer to trust some anonymous website, I mean we have a real crisis in understanding of what the Church is. Now I suppose those websites can play some role in tweaking consciences and in raising issues, but I don't think we can give them the infallibility of truth."
Even though smacking of clericalism, this line of argument (Catholic laity have defined rights in Church law regarding these situations) is having a serious effect. It is leaving people to assume either deliberate falsehood or profound ignorance on the part of the CCCB, or that perhaps LSN and various other agencies which have discovered and confirmed such evidence are somehow fabricating it all.
Last week, Archbishop Weisgerber presented many of his same arguments on the D&P controversy to the entire Canadian contingent of leading Knights of Columbus at the Knights annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
After being urged to at least consider the LSN evidence Fr. Ricciolli, in a comment on his blog, said: "I have checked the LifeSite response to the Bishops' Reports ... I can see that the reports from LifeSite, if accurate would be very problematic. I am left with a dilema [sic]. Do I believe the Catholic bishops of Canada or not? To me, there's not much of an option. I'll stick with the bishops."
LSN is grateful for the actions of Archbishop Collins and other bishops who are following the lead of the Toronto bishop.
However, persistent denials coming from the President of the Conference of Bishops invoking the authority of the Church to back misinformation are creating a new scandal.