Nov 262012
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Lay revolt follows cancellation of fall education campaign.

by Dennis Gruending

The Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) is in turmoil after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) pressured the organization in  September to scuttle an educational post card campaign just as D and P was about to distribute the material. The postcards, which were to be sent to the Prime Minister, asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance.

Although this modest request hardly seems to be the stuff of revolt, the CCCB said that the campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

The open revolt against the Catholic hierarchy from within is virtually unprecedented.

It would appear that the CCCB’s decision on this issue may have been made without the knowledge of bishops who sit on the CCCB’s standing committee on Development and Peace. The Catholic Register newspaper quoted two of those bishops saying that they had not been contacted directly about the ultimatum to D and P.

That decision has resulted in D and P staff resignations, criticism of the organization’s management team and elected National Council, and outcry from D and P supporters who accuse the CCCB of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government.

In late October, Claire Doran, director of D and P’s In-Canada program department, stood at a public meeting in Montreal and announced that she had resigned from her position in protest.

Doran wrote in her letter of resignation that the bishops were curtailing the freedom of D and P’s members to hold the government to account on issues of concern to Catholics such as “solidarity with the poor of the global South, or the choices government makes in relation to the promotion of a just and sustainable development.”

A few days later Elizabeth Garant, executive director of the Jesuit-founded Centre Justice et Foi (Justice and Faith) in Montreal, sent a stinging open letter to Archbishop Richard Smith. She wrote, “ …you seem to put the preservation of your ‘good relations’ with the Conservative government above any other consideration.”

Garant also criticized the CCCB for inviting Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to address a closed door session of their annual meeting in October 2012, and for their recent silence on a range of economic and justice issues facing Canadians and people in the global south.

She noted that the CCCB refused to sign a statement on climate change in October 2011, which had been developed and supported by about 60 Canadian churches and religious organizations. The bishops had also promised a letter or statement on the Canadian economic crisis that began in 2008 – but that document has never appeared. In fact, as Garant pointed out in her letter, the CCCB recently laid off the last remaining employee advising them on economic and social issues.

The CCCB refused to sign an October 2011 statement on climate change in October 2011, supported by 60 Canadian churches and religious organizations.

Also in Quebec, the Valleyfield Diocesan Council of D and P announced that it had no intention of participating in a revised fall campaign. “We no longer recognize our organization, whose members have been campaigning for several 20 to 30 years,” they wrote in a letter. “This lay organization is taken hostage by a small number of bishops related to political and religious right.”

The Quebec youth wing of D and P announced that it would not work on the new, tamer campaign requested by the bishops. D and P’s Anglophone youth assembly did not go that far but publically expressed its “frustration and disappointment” with both the CCCB and the D and P management team.

The open revolt against the Catholic hierarchy from within is virtually unprecedented. It appears to be most intense in Quebec, where it has also received coverage from the mainstream media, something which has not been the case in English Canada.

It is unclear where this deep dissatisfaction will lead, but it can’t be helpful to D and P and it doesn’t instill confidence about the leadership of Canada’s bishops.

The Canadian bishops themselves created Development and Peace in 1967. The Second Vatican Council had just placed a new emphasis on working for international justice, and also upon having lay people take on more responsibility in the church.

D and P created a national network of paid animateurs, organized volunteer committees based in Catholic parishes, and established an elected national council. However, in many parishes D and P did not have a presence or was marginal to parish life.

Those active in D and P believed that it was an organization run by the laity, who would shoulder responsibility for raising money and engaging in development education. Two bishops always sat on D and P’s national council, playing mainly an advisory role.

Despite hopes raised among the laity by Vatican II, the Catholic Church remains an hierarchical organization.

While the relationship with the CCCB was generally good, and despite the hopes and dreams engendered among the laity by Vatican II, the Catholic Church remains an hierarchical organization in which the bishops rule.

Development and Peace raised $33.8 million in 2010-11 from donations and government grants, most of the latter from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). D and P spent $26.8 million on international programs and humanitarian aid in the global South. This included everything from micro loans to women in Afghanistan to supporting humanitarian aid projects in drought ravaged countries in the horn of Africa.

The mainstay of D and P’s fund raising efforts is the Share Lent collection held each winter or spring. Most bishops give permission for that collection to occur in their dioceses and the money is supposed to be forwarded to D and P for its work. In 2011, the collection raised $8.9 million, an amount that is supplemented by other fund raising activities.

D and P does not place staff in the field internationally but rather directs its financial assistance through partner organizations on the ground. The organization also spends a portion of its money (about $3 million in 2010-11) for development education within Canada. One of the educational campaigns in recent years dealt with the behavior of Canadian mining companies abroad.

The choice of local partners for development in Southern countries and the Canada-based educational campaigns have both been the focus of attacks by critics, who have some of the bishops in their corner. The first assaults came in the 1970s from an extreme Catholic right wing group called Tradition, Family and Property, which began in Brazil but developed a Canadian presence. It accused D and P of being infiltrated by Marxists and of supporting armed movements. These attacks were usually timed to coincide with C and P’s Lenten collection.

Lifesite News has accused D and P of supporting feminism with its annual Lenten collection funds.

Recently, the most vociferous attacks have come from a website called Lifesite News, an organization supported by arch-conservative Catholics in Canada and the US, and from another site called Socon or Bust. Lifesite continues to say that D and P is a haven for radicals but accuses the organization of supporting feminism. This is a red flag to Catholic traditionalists and a critique that resonates with some bishops.

In 2009 and again in 2011, Lifesite accused D and P of supporting groups in Mexico that supported birth control and access to abortion. Lifesite focused specifically on D and P’s financial support for a Catholic human rights centre in Mexico whose executive director was a Jesuit priest named Luis Arriaga.

Lifesite alleged that the centre and Arriaga were supporting groups that provided birth control and advocated for abortion. Further, Lifesite accused D and P of associating with groups that are not Catholic, a criticism that hearkened back to a pre-Vatican II theology of Catholic exceptionalism. Once again, the attacks began just as the Lenten collection was about to take place.

The CCCB sent a delegation to Mexico to investigate and concluded that the Lifesite accusations were untrue. But the complaints and attendant publicity also led the bishops to set up a permanent committee to scrutinize the activities and operations of D and P.

The CCCB sent a delegation to Mexico to investigate and concluded that the Lifesite accusations were untrue.

D and P used to count on support, if not always warm enthusiasm, from most of the bishops. But with dozens of conservative appointments under the last two popes, such backing can no longer be taken for granted. Increasingly, doctrinal conservatism appears to be extending to the political sphere among a significant clique within the CCCB.

Minister Jason Kenney, a conservative Catholic, has become a prominent visitor at church events, particularly in the Toronto area. When Archbishop Thomas  Collins of Toronto was named as a cardinal, a group of Conservative cabinet ministers attended his installation in Rome. They included Kenney, John Baird, Jim Flaherty and Julian Fantino.

Then there was Kenney’s invitation to address a closed-door session at the CCCB’s annual meeting in September 2012. The appearance of any politician or cabinet minister at such a meeting is unprecedented in recent memory.

Finally, there is CIDA’s decision in February 2012 to chop its funding to D and P by 65 per cent. CIDA has similarly cut funding for development assistance to other church-based organizations, including KAIROS and the Mennonite Central Committee. CIDA began at the same time to funnel money to Canadian mining companies. They claim that they will, in partnership with other Canadian-based aid organizations, provide skills training to people living near mine sites in Southern countries.

After Jason Kenney’s unprecedented address to a closed-door session of the bishops, some bishops are saying D and P’s campaign should not question foreign aid priorities.

The bishops offered only tepid support for their own organization in the face of the CIDA cutbacks. Now some of them are saying that it was not appropriate for D and P to build its recent fall educational campaign around questioning foreign aid priorities.

“We can have that dialogue (on Canadian development policy),” Bishop Richard Grecco of Charlottetown told The Catholic Register. “I just don’t think it should be a campaign. That’s not what D and P should be about.”

The same newspaper article suggests that the bishops are concerned that D and P’s fall campaign might interfere with the CCCB’s relationship with the government. Ronald Breau, president of D and P’s national council, which acceded to the bishops’ request to pull the postcard campaign, says this: “The bishops are concerned that ongoing dialogue between the Catholic church and the government of Canada on some important, timely and sensitive issues might be compromised by our [D and P] approach at this time.”

Observers are left to wonder what those sensitive issues might be. It is clear that the Harper government wants to embed conservative Catholics, along with certain evangelicals and conservative Jews, into its permanent electoral coalition. Hence the overtures to the CCCB. It is less clear how the bishops and the church will benefit from this dalliance with the Conservatives. That is an issue worth our continuing scrutiny.

About Dennis Gruending

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author and former Member of Parliament. He is also a former director of information for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. His books include the biography, Emmett Hall: Establishment Radical and his latest book is Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life, recently released by Kingsley Publishing Services of Calgary. His blog can be found linked below.


© Copyright 2012 Dennis Gruending, All rights Reserved. Written For:

  One Response to “Catholic bishops vs Development and Peace”

  1. Dennis this is a great article. It shows how neo liberalism is leaving no good turn unstoned. I am proud of those Catholics who resisting those in power who place their ideas of what is important over justice. One comment is the the language barrier has protected Quebec from the full onslot of neo liberal ideologe. Once again a great article. Thank you.

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