Development and Peace fall campaign is put on hold

By 
  • September 21, 2012

The traditional fall education campaign of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is on hold until Oct. 15 while staff and volunteers scramble to come up with less political material that will gain the backing of all of Canada's bishops.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Smith and general secretary Msgr. Pat Powers informed Development and Peace Sept. 5 that several bishops had objected to the fall campaign and did not want the material distributed in their diocese. It is the first time in the 45-year history of the Catholic development agency that the bishops have intervened to block an education campaign.

Neither the CCCB nor Development and Peace could tell The Catholic Register how many bishops have objected to campaign materials, which have been printed but not yet distributed. Through a spokesperson, Smith declined to be interviewed for this story as "the bishops have not had a chance to discuss the issue."

Bishops on the CCCB's Standing Committee on Development and Peace were not consulted on the move to halt the campaign and have not seen the materials.

"I haven't had it explained to me, so I can't really comment," said Toronto's Bishop John Boissonneau, chair of the committee. "I was aware that the president of the conference sent out a letter, but there's been no follow-up with me directly."

"I kind of feel out in the cold on this," said committee member Bishop Richard Grecco of Charlottetown.

The last time the bishops' committee met was May 31 for a consultation with the Development and Peace liaison committee for relations with the bishops. Meanwhile, work on the fall education campaign had been delayed until June while the organization dealt with major restructuring to accommodate a drastic cut in Canadian International Development Agency funding.

The fall campaign was to have veered off-course from Development and Peace's five-year plan of environmentally themed education campaigns. This campaign, which included postcards addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was conceived as a national consultation on the direction of Canada's foreign aid policy.

A copy of a Development and Peace postcard addressed to Harper was obtained by The Catholic Register. It asks Harper to "launch a national consultation on the future of Canadian development assistance." The card also urges a "Special Parliamentary Committee to examine the new direction of Canadian assistance."

"The trend in how Canada's foreign aid programs are administered has changed quite dramatically," Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey told The Catholic Register. "The role for civil society organizations like us is becoming less apparent. More of the money is going to multilateral institutions, private sector development.... We wanted to see if a constructive critique of this policy from our perspective could get a hearing."

The campaign did not mention the $35-million cut over five years in CIDA funding to Development and Peace, said Casey, and is not an attempt to revisit the funding decision, he said.

"Concerns were expressed regarding the nature and methodology of the campaign with respect that it could create some divisiveness within the Church community and that perhaps there should be some more consultations within D&P and also with the broader Church," said Ronald Breau, Development and Peace national council president.

Archbishop Smith

Archbishop Smith

- Register file photo

Breau wrote to the Development and Peace membership Sept. 17 to explain the delay.

"We are fully aware that our decision will disappoint many of our active and engaged members," Breau wrote.

While the campaign will be modified, the fall action campaign will remain focussed on Canada's development aid policies. But the national council is heeding Smith's warning that the original campaign would "lead to division among our base, among bishops and among our supporters," Breau wrote.

"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 approach at this time." 

Parish Development and Peace leader Greg Kennedy is left wondering what his group will do while it waits for the campaign to launch.

"Traditionally Development and Peace at the parish level operates basically two times a year — one in the fall with the education campaign and then the Share Lent or ShareLife in (the Toronto archdiocese)," said the Jesuit, who is studying for the priesthood and helping out at Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Toronto. "Without those bookends, really there's not much to do until Lent."

The appearance that the bishops are divided or opposed to Development and Peace has become a challenge for parish groups, said Kennedy. And the idea that the bishops' conference did not inform its own standing committee will be even more confusing.

"The bishops set up these avenues through which both they and Development and Peace would work and all of a sudden that gets over-ridden. That's disturbing," he said. "What's the point of having them if they're not going to be used."

But lobbying the government on policy does not amount to education, said Grecco.

"We can have that dialogue (on Canadian development policy). I just don't think it should be a campaign. That's not what D&P should be about."

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