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 They asked that the project be withdrawn and D and P’s national council decided to follow the advice.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.
It was the Canadian bishops who 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. It is also true, however, that in many parishes D and P did not have a presence and that in other cases it 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. The relationship with the CCCB was generally good, but despite the hopes and dreams engendered among the laity by Vatican II the Catholic Church remains an hierarchical organization in which the bishops rule.
Micro loans and disaster assistance
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 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 for development education within Canada, about $3 million in 2010-11. One of the educational campaigns in recent years dealt with the behavior of Canadian mining companies abroad.
Attacks since the 1970s
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.
Recently, the most vociferous attacks have come from a website called Lifesite News, an organization supported by arch-conservative Catholics in Canada and the U.S., 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.
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.
CIDA chops D and P
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.
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.”
One is 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 Jewish people 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.
The website I think you are talking about is “Socon Or Bust”.
Dennis replies: Yes, thank you. I have revised to provide the more complete name. I appreciate your close reading.