Peruvian archbishop asks Canadian bishops to cut funding of alleged pro-abortion groups, critics say it is part of long-standing defamation campaign

By Annie Thériault

The Archbishop of Piura and Tumbes, José Antonio Eguren, has written a letter formally asking his Canadian counterparts to stop the funding, through the Canadian Catholic Organization of Development & Peace,  D&P, to alleged pro-abortion groups in Peru.

According to Eguren, President of the Peruvian Conference of Bishops’ Commission on Family, Childhood and Life, “a staff of professionals” affiliated to the Commission recently led an in-depth investigation of the Canadian-supported groups in Peru and determined that three organizations – including Peru’s Economic Solidarity Network, or GRESP and the Coordinadora Nacional de Radio, or CNR – were “pro-abortion.”

“Each group either explicitly endorses abortion, and/or contraception, either by name or by its various euphemisms like ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ or some derivation thereof,” reads Eguren’s letter.

“It is very disturbing to have groups, which work against the Bishops of Peru by attempting to undermine legal protection for the right to life of unborn children, be funded by our brother bishops in Canada,” concludes Eguren, who offers to help his Canadian counterparts find “worthy Catholic organizations” involved in “authentic development projects” in Peru.

Eguren, a member of the conservative Sodalitium Vitae order, was named Archbishop of Piura and Tumbes by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.  The Peru-based order works closely with the conservative Opus Dei, of which Cardinal Luis Cirpiani, Archbishop of Lima, is a member.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, or CCCB, has yet to comment on Eguren’s letter, or the accusations voiced by LifeSiteNews.com – an online internet service funded by the Campaign Life Coalition, or CLC, a Canadian pro-life organization headquartered in Toronto. LifeSiteNews.com published Eguren’s letter – dated May 28, 2009 – on its website on June 10, 2009.

“The CCCB cannot comment on the letter a Peruvian Archbishop sent last month to CCCB president, Archbishop James Weisberger,” Gérald Baril, a CCCB spokesperson, told the Peruvian Times. “The CCCB and Peru’s Conference of Bishops are currently discussing the matter, to clarify the situation. Bishops from across Canada will convene and discuss the matter during the upcoming plenary session, in mid-October.”

D&P currently has 140 partners in Latin America. Some of these are continental in scope or operate on a Pan-American level, while others are active in one or many of D&P’s 12 priority countries, including Peru.

In the Andean country, D&P has 13 partners, including the National Association of Community Centers, or ANC, the Work and Culture Association, or ADEC-ATC, the Amazonian Center for Applied Anthropology, or CAAAP, the Center for the Development and Support of Domestic Workers, or CEPRODETH and, among others, the Bishops’ Social Action Commission – funded for its work on human rights education and conflict resolution based on the social teachings of the Church.

D&P’s priority issues in the region include re-establishing the functioning of democratic institutions, reweaving the fabric of social organizations, and strengthening local decision-making abilities and popular participation.

Though some pro-life leaders, such as Carlos Polo – a member of the Peruvian Conference of Bishops’ Family Commission and the Latin American Director of the Population Research Institute – claim that investigations have left “no doubt” such funding has taken place, critics say the pro-abortion accusations “are irresponsible, slanderous, and part of an ongoing defamation campaign against groups that promote women’s sexual and reproductive rights.”

“Pro-life groups and the Church, for the past seven years, have been carrying out a forceful campaign to prevent any normative or legal advancement in terms of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in Peru,” said Rocio Gutiérrez, the sexual and reproductive rights focus area coordinator of the Lima-based Peruvian nonprofit organization Manuela Ramos.

Though Manuela Ramos is not funded by D&P, said Gutiérrez, all human and women’s rights groups –many of which are in great need of foreign aid – could potentially be affected by Eguren’s letter and “irresponsible” accusations.

“These strong lobbies, with close and strong ties to the government, constantly misinform and defame civil society and human rights organizations struggling to stand up for women’s sexual and reproductive rights,” added Gutiérrez.

“They have put spokes in our wheels many times before, and this letter does not come as a surprise to me. No, it doesn’t really. These groups have done much more audacious things in the past,” she added, referring to a letter Peru’s Health Ministry sent in 2003 to then Secretary of the U.S. Congress, Thomas Thompson. The letter expressed the Ministry’s “preoccupation” about a “disinformation campaign” launched by the Manuela Ramos organization with funds provided by USAID.

On a television show called “Barra de Mujeres,” members of Manuela discussed women’s sexual and reproductive rights and, among other things, the “morning after pill,” or post-coital pill. Then Health minister, Dr. Fernando Carbonne, claimed the pill had “abortive properties” – setting off a scandal that ultimately led USAID to request that Manuela refund the money it had pledged to help finance the TV program.

The morning-afte-pill is a high dose of hormonal contraception. Taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, it prevents a fertilized egg from embedding itself to the womb’s lining. Unlike the RU-486 abortion pill, it has no effect if a woman is already pregnant.

Abortion is illegal in Peru, except when physicians prove that a pregnancy is endangering a woman’s health or her life.

But, according to the European Medical Association Research Working Group, although access to induced abortion services is legally restricted in Peru, the incidence of induced abortion is “as high as, or higher than, the estimated incidence in many countries where induced abortion is legal and safe.”

A string of accusations

Last February, LifeSiteNews.com also accused D&P of funding pro-abortion advocacy groups in Mexico.

Two months later, a team of Canadian bishops and advisors travelled to Mexico to investigate the pro-life organization’s allegations.

On June 29, 2009, in its report on five Mexican Non-Governmental Organizations that had received project funding from D&P, the Committee of Inquiry of the CCCB concluded that the allegations “that financial assistance by D&P aided projects related to the promotion of abortion” were unfounded.

“All funds pledged to these Mexican organizations – of which none were identified as being pro-abortion – were used to help impoverished people,” said Baril in comments to the Peruvian Times. “The Committee of Inquiry determined that no funds were used to support or encourage any type of pro-abortion activity.”

At the time, D&P Executive Director, Michael Casey, and its President, Pat Hogan, personally wrote to each Canadian Bishop in order to reiterate D&P‘s commitment “to the Catholic Church in Canada and the Bishops of Canada on all moral and ethical issues governed by the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

“Let there be no mistake, D&P has never supported abortion services anywhere, at any time, and cannot ever support such projects,” read their letter. “D&P has never and will never enter into partnership with any organization offering such services. Should we become aware that a partner organization has changed its mandate and begins offering such services, they would be immediately cut off from our partnership support and funding.”

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