CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith and the Canadian bishops are accused of being politically conservative by Elisabeth Garant of the Centre Justice et Foi in Montreal. Register file photo

Bishops ‘silent’ on social justice

By 
  • November 17, 2012

A “culture of silence” and deference to “political conservatism” has infected the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), charges the head of the Jesuit-founded Centre Justice et Foi (Justice and Faith) in Montreal.

In an open letter to CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith, Elisabeth Garant said the elimination of the CCCB’s post of senior advisor for social justice, delaying and blunting the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s fall education campaign, inviting Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney to a private meeting and not criticizing refugee policy reforms amount to a “serious step back away from the rich Church tradition of social justice.”

Garant’s letter will be on the agenda of the next CCCB executive committee meeting Nov. 27-28. Until then, the conference has chosen to make no comment.

Garant served five years as a member of the CCCB’s Commission on Justice and Peace. She accuses the bishops of cozying up to the Conservative government because, she said, the CCCB has not engaged the Canadian government on an issue of social justice since December 2010. At that time, Kenney dismissed a letter from the bishops’ justice and peace commission as another in “a long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops’ conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy.”

“From that moment we observe a silence,” said Garant. “Why are we silent on things that are not our personal issues but that we think for the common good we need to talk about?”

She also questions the CCCB for laying off social justice advisor Francois Poitras in order to help get its finances in order.

CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Patrick Powers has said layoffs were necessary. “We have had to rethink the way we do things, to do more and to cost less,” he told Canadian Catholic News.

“When Msgr. Powers said that this responsibility (for social justice) will be spread among other lay people at the conference, I don’t know any of them who have the experience or the competence to deal with social justice,” she said.

Garant also disputes the CCCB’s explanation behind the delay of the Development and Peace fall campaign. In a joint letter, the CCCB and Development and Peace explained that the campaign was delayed and modified because “concern was expressed that elements of the original materials could be a source of division among bishops, priests, parishioners and donors.”

“They are saying they do that for the sake of some faithful who will be hurt,” said Garant. “There’s no real proof of what they are talking about.”

Garant has yet to receive acknowledgment of her letter from the CCCB or Smith. Smith was in Rome in early November.

Though the Centre Justice et Foi has autonomy, it remains a Jesuit apostolate with the full confidence of Canada’s French-speaking Jesuit fathers, said Garant.

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