Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Archbishop Richard Smith, CCCB President

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 So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.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.

Bitter reaction

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.

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Development and Peace spat a many-layered story

Catholic aid organization Development and Peace

I posted to this blog recently about how the Canadian Conference of Catholic bishops (CCCB) pressured the Catholic aid agency Development and Peace (D and P) to suspend a fall 2012 educational campaign that involved sending postcards to the Prime Minister. The cards asked that he have a parliamentary committee undertake a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance. The bishops said the postcard campaign was too political and would cause division in the church and among bishops. They asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.

This has resulted in bitter accusations from D and P supporters who accuse the bishops of becoming too cozy with the Conservative government. This revolt against the Catholic hierarchy is virtually unprecedented and it is uncertain where this dissatisfaction will lead. I indicated in my previous posting that this is a many layered story and that I would provide some background to place the controversy into a context.

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Remembrance Day, T.T. Shields and war

War Memorial Ottawa

On the eve of Remembrance Day, I attended a Brahms concert in the century-old Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa. As I walked around during the intermission, I found myself looking at memorial plaques on the walls to honour the church’s young men who died in the First and Second World Wars. Coincidentally, the church’s first service was offered in 1914, the year in which the First World War began. I tried to imagine the scene that year and particularly what might have been said about the war from the pulpit in Canadian churches. I recalled a series of sermons by the Reverend Thomas Todhunter Shields that I had discovered while researching my book Great Canadian Speeches. It was all fire and brimstone in favour of the fight.

When Britain declared war against Germany in August 1914, Canada and the other members of the Empire were automatically involved even though they had not been consulted beforehand. Canadians of British origin were decidedly in favour of supporting the war, saying that Canadians had a duty to fight on behalf of Motherland and Empire. Many people who lived in Quebec and others such as my grandparents, who had emigrated from Central Europe, were much less enthusiastic.

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CRA hassles Canadian Mennonite magazine

Richard Benner, Canadian Mennonite

The editor of Canadian Mennonite magazine says that he was puzzled, saddened and disheartened to get a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency warning that his publication was being too political and could lose its charitable status as a result. “I took it personally,” writes  editor Richard Benner in the magazine’s November 12 edition.

The letter from a CRA bureaucrat was dated July 23 and it said: “It has come to our attention that recent issues of the organization’s monthly periodical entitled Canadian Mennonite, have contained editorials and/or articles that appear to promote opposition to a political party, or to candidates for public office.” The letter went on to say that, “Registered charities that engage in partisan political activities jeopardize their charitable status and can be subject to revocation.”

Canadian Mennonite is registered as a charity so it can receive funds from Mennonite Church Canada and area churches. It can provide tax receipts to donors.

Offending articles

Benner told CBC News that after receiving the letter he called the CRA and asked for examples of what the agency considered to be offending articles. They cited two editorials and four articles.

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Does Canada need a Department of Peace?

I was one of the speakers at a public consultation held in Ottawa on November 3 by the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative (CDPI). The group has been advocating for federal government legislation to create a Canadian Department of Peace. The rationale is that the Department of National Defence is devoted to planning and prosecuting war but that we should also have a Department of Peace with a minister at the cabinet table. His or her department would be responsible for providing a peace lens in all federal government activities as well as promoting peace building activities in Canada and abroad.

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Central Europe, walks, talks and Mozart

Train station in Berlin

My wife Martha and I spent four weeks recently in Central Europe, focused on Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. We also paid brief visits to Leipzig and Dresden in Germany and to a small city called Debrecen in Hungary. We were tourists of course and can claim no specialized knowledge of these cities or of European countries, but there are certain immediate observations that one can make. Here are a few:

Public transit

The public transit is great, at least in the cities that we visited, especially Berlin but also the others. In each of these cities there are subways, surface trains and street cars. In every major city we visited we were able to use public transit to get from the airport or train station to our downtown apartment or hotel.

When we flew into Berlin we caught a bus from the airport to a stop for the U-Bahn subway. We took it to a downtown station and there we could easily have transferred to a street car to within a block of the apartment we rented. We choose instead to walk from the station.

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Vic Toews, code words on prison chaplains

Vic Toews, talking in code

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews decided recently to cancel the contracts of all 49 part-time chaplains in Canada’s federal prisons. Eighteen of those chaplains are non-Christians. Another 80 full-time chaplains remain; 79 of them are Christians. That leaves only one non-Christian chaplain, an imam, in the entire federal prison system. The public reaction, at least as expressed in the media, has been almost entirely opposed. Even the Conservative-friendly Calgary Herald was mildly negative.

Toews may (or not) care about negative public comment – he has had plenty of that in the past few years. But he has also won five federal elections in a socially and religiously conservative area of Manitoba and he knows well how to play to his political base. He also speaks in a code that they understand and he is doing that in the narrative of dissed prison chaplains.

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Canadian immigration, Hungary and thin ice

Parliament in Budapest

I spent four weeks recently in Central Europe and while in Hungary I spoke to a university audience about how Canadians view immigrants, refugees and multiculturalism. One is always on thin ice, to use a Canadian metaphor, when speaking in a country where you are a tourist and may offend sensibilities. But I believe that Canada’s experience with managing ethnic diversity might be of use to other countries.  I took as my point of departure the 1950s in rural Saskatchewan. I grew up in a farming community that had been created as part of a great human migration late in the 19th and early in the 20th century when the Canadian government settled the West with farmers. My small village was diverse for its time. There were Germans, Ukrainians, French, Hungarians and others. In fact, I discovered upon rereading our local community history book that when it was created one of the names being considered for my village was Budapest. The village was eventually called St. Benedict, to recognize a religious community of Benedictine monks that had been established nearby – but Hungarians were significant in our population.

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