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 So the CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.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

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.”

Jesuit centre

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.

Open revolt

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.

Many layers

This is a many layered story and some brief background will be helpful. I will provide that background soon in a subsequent posting.


12 thoughts on “Development and Peace knee-capped by Catholic bishops

Add yours

  1. Archbishop Richard Smith
    President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
    2500 Don Reid Dr.
    Ottawa, ON
    K1H 2J2

    November 25, 2012

    Dear Archbishop Smith:

    I am writing as a concerned Catholic in follow-up to a recent article in the Globe and Mail in which International Development Minister Julian Fantino announced the Government’s intention to see Canada’s international development agency align itself more closely with the private sector and work more explicitly to promote Canada’s economic interests abroad.

    In hindsight, it is difficult to argue that Development and Peace’s call for a public discussion about the direction of Canada’s foreign aid program this past fall was anything but prophetic. One can only assume that this announcement comes as a surprise to the Conference in that it had explicitly informed Development and Peace, and through it Canadian Catholics, that they would be ill-advised to object to the commercialization of Canada’s foreign aid program, as this could upset delicate negotiations between the Conference and the Harper government. It would seem that these discussions were either unsuccessful, or that they had little to do with the interests of the world’s poor.

    In light of the Government’s now publicly announced intention to turn its back on the world’s poor, unless our aid money can do double duty by helping Canada’s business community, I wonder if the Conference has seen fit to amend its position? Is the Conference still asking Canadian Catholics to stand idly by while the declared objective of Canada’s foreign aid program moves from poverty eradication to business promotion? When did “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” become one of the beatitudes?

    I believe that as a Canadian taxpayer I am called to voice my objection to any such perversion of Canada’s foreign aid program. However, I am not entirely certain that I enjoy this same privilege as a Catholic. Were I to write to the Government as a concerned Catholic would I be breeching the unity of the Church? If I were to be joined by others in my parish are we able to declare our action an expression of our Catholic faith? Were an entire Diocese, or dare say it a major Catholic organization now to make a similar appeal to keep Canada’s assistance effort focused on the poor, would it be a violation of the CCCB’s instruction?

    As a Catholic activist, I must ask if we as Catholics can expect some clarification from the Conference as to whether or not we are called by our faith to defend the Gospel values of sharing and solidarity in this case, or whether some sort of exception needs to be made? Are we able to advocate within the Church for a greater level of democratic participation in the design of Canada’s foreign policy, or is merely calling for a public discussion somehow partisan? More importantly, can we anticipate any leadership from the CCCB on the substance of the issues involved? Are Canada’s bishops prepared to comment on the Government’s intention to sacrifice the fundamental precepts of one of the world’s more progressive foreign aid programs at the altar of “Canada’s Economic Action Plan”.

    As I understand it, your earlier intervention was premised on preserving Church unity, surely we as Catholics are not only called to unity but entitled to be united under our Bishops leadership in defending the interests of the poor and oppressed.

    Thanking you for it in advance for your reply, I remain

    Yours in Christ

    Herbert J. O’Hearn


  2. It would seem, given events described here and those occurring in USA, that mainstream Catholics are far more Christian than their hierarchy and that said hierarchy is losing its iron grip. About time.


  3. I find what the Harper regime is doing to Canada’s International Assistance very disturbing. Rather than funding Canadian NGO’s who are accountable, effective, and responsible, they have chosen to assist their corporate buddies and corrupt governments under the cloak of “promoting trade”.


  4. Thank you so much for a copy of the letter from O’Hearn to Archbishop Smith, and also comments to him from Elizebeth Garant. As a former member of the National Council, I really found it hard to believe that a member of the CCCB would be swayed by a government official, rather than the teachings of Jesus Christ, when it comes to helping the world’s poor and oppressed. This problem needs to be resolved.


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