Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Canadian bishops begin un-scandalizing the faithful

Two of Canada's strongest Archbishops, Terrence Prendergast (Ottawa) and Thomas Collins (Toronto), started the work of undoing some of the damage done by more liberal bishops on the Development and Peace (D&P) scandal. The manner in which they intervened is a HUGE development, unprecedented in the recent history of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).   

First let me summarize the facts (h/t, then I'll tell why this is so significant.

  • On October 20th, an initial report on the D&P scandal was presented at the Plenary of the CCCB by the bishop of Charlottetown, Richard Grecco.
  • Among other things, the report said that D&P "came under a concerted Internet-based media attack by certain militant advocacy groups and individuals, alleging that DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE was financing and promoting abortion programs and advocacy through our partner network."
  • According to the agenda, no discussion was scheduled to take place among the bishops at that time.  Debate was to occur later in the week.
  • Nevertheless, Archbishop Prendergast and Archbishop Collins both raised objections at the conclusion of the presentation of the report.
  • Initially, the CCCB President Archbishop Weisgerber (Winnipeg), who chaired the meeting, attempted to stop any public debate.
  • Archbishop Prendergast still spoke up and said that the bishops of Ontario were very concerned with the situation. He referred to a letter circulated to bishops from D&P, saying that he felt that here the bishops were being asked to continue with "business as usual" with D&P. The Ottawa Archbishop added: "I'm not sure we can accept that." 
  • Again Archbishop Weisgerber interjected to note that they were only to be discussing the current report. 
  • Then Archbishop Collins spoke up.  He said that there were problems with the report as presented because it misrepresented or misunderstood the criticisms of D&P by claiming that they were accused of "financing and promoting abortion programs and advocacy." He pointed out that D&P was "not accused of that," thus suggesting revising the report. "It is important," he said, "to be accurate." He continued: "When one is criticized it is important to either admit when the criticism is just or prove that it's not." He concluded, "It's important to I think listen to what the criticism is." 
  • Archbishop Weisgerber had a very brief exchange with Bishop Grecco acknowledging they would reconsider the wording in the report.

What exactly happened here?

Most obviously, the events show that there are bishops in the CCCB who are very unhappy with D&P. We already knew this, so that's not a big revelation. But it's comforting to get a reminder.  ;-)

The biggest lesson of this incident is that these two Archbishops were so upset about the scandal caused among the faithful that they felt the need to publicly break ranks with the other bishops and go on record, publicly, as disapproving of how this scandal is being managed.  This has not been witnessed in the CCCB in a long time.  

Think about it:  they could have waited until the private discussion to raise their objections.  They could have settled the issues behind closed doors.  But they felt compelled to cause a scene before the reporters so that the faithful could have a public and visible witness to the effect that some bishops are not swallowing this.  This is clearly a wink and a nudge to those faithful Catholics out there who've been floored by the CCCB's handling of the scandal so far.  The two Archbishops are essentially saying:  "My dear flock, we have not abandoned you.  Your angst has not gone unnoticed.  We're going to fight this alongside you."

Trust had been broken, so the trust had to be rebuilt.  Archbishops Prendergast and Collins took a major step in that direction and they should be praised for their courage.