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 the material was about to be distributed. The postcard, which was 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. This is hardly the stuff of revolt but 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 So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.
It would appear that the CCCB’s decision that the fall campaign should be shut down 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 Development and Peace.
That decision has resulted in D and P staff resignations, criticism of the organization’s management team and elected National Council, and accusations 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. In a letter of resignation she wrote 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.
Frustration and disappointment
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.
This is a many layered story and some brief background will be helpful. I will provide that background soon in a subsequent posting.