Abdicate or Resist?
Has Development and Peace lost its soul forever? Are we to abdicate or to resist? In a spirit of revolt, some friends and long-time members have chosen to publicly withdraw their support. We can understand their action. Pillars of the organization have resigned as their situation became internally intolerable. Does that mean that the efforts at the grassroots level to organize resistanceare in vain? Since 1985 the Quebec Group for Contextual Theology (GTCQ) has reflected andacted on social and ecclesial issues in Quebec. As members of GTCQ and friends of Development and Peace we believe that the resistance deserves support and we put our energy into that option by a conviction that is both political and theological.
The crisis Development and Peace has been going through for some time now was, at first, difficult to understand. This is particularly due to the lack of transparency on the part of its principal actors, namely the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the direction of the organization under pressure from the bishops. The most recent episode in this crisis is the cancellation of the essential element of the 2012 Fall campaign. As with all the campaigns of this sort since 1977, it had an awareness-building objective and proposed a concrete action that targeted the structural causes of a specific injustice. The intervention of the bishops revealed more clearly some of the driving characteristics of this endless crisis that led so many Catholics in this country as well as a large number of partners both here and abroad to despair.
More and more, it seems clear that the decisive factor lies in a power move perpetrated by a minority of bishops in the CCCB following attacks led by the LifeSiteNews agency against Development and Peace in 2009 and then again in 2011. We deplore the blackmail and theintimidation inspired by a retrograde concept of the Church and its mission that were imposed since then on decisions at Development and Peace. In this process there was an attempt to drag the whole CCCB in its wake. We no longer recognise the majority of our bishops in all this. The view that seems to us to underlie this twist is one that currently dominates the Vatican, that was also imposed on Caritas international and that will perhaps soon descend on CIDSE (International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity). Development and Peace is affiliatedto those two networks of catholic NGO’s.
Two destructive steps backward
The two main elements of this vision at stake in the fiasco that we are suffering are, in our opinion, the following: the prohibition imposed on Development and Peace of any questioning ofpolitical powers and also the de facto subjection to trusteeship by the clerical hierarchy of an organization that is entrusted to the responsibility of the laity by its official statutes.
In a recent communication, the President of the CCCB, Bishop R. Smith, and the President of the National Council of Development and Peace, Mr. R. Breau, affirmed jointly that their decision was based on the concern to preserve unity. In fact we are presented with two shifts that threaten the future and the unity of the Church far more than the Fall Campaign originally planned by Development and Peace. In fact, the campaign wanted simply to have the current orientations of the Harper government regarding public support for development examined in a parliamentary committee. What is there that is threatening in this anymore than in previous campaigns of awareness-building and of education organized by Development and Peace?
The first of these measures amounts to a dissociation of the hope announced by Jesus from any effective transformation of the social and political structures that generate injustice, exclusion and the violation of human rights. We thus return to a concept of the Church that places it outside orabove society, or even in collusion with the powers in place, rather than in solidarity with this world through which the Second Vatican Council considered the Church as “servant and poor,” reaching out to the Reign of God and committed to sustain prophetically the aspirations of people for justice and peace.
The second action is framed within the Roman wish to reaffirm the supremacy of the clerical institution in face of the suspected menace of an increasing independence of the laity. This hardening is in flagrant contradiction with the theology of the Church as people of God that wasreaffirmed by Vatican II. This cannot help but focus the Church on its own internal interests,demobilize the laity even as they are called to commitment, discourage efforts at renewal and creativity that are nevertheless so urgent, and marginalize even more an institution on its way to being discredited.
There is nothing coherent here with the declared objectives of the New Evangelization. Nor is there anything to provide new hope to many Catholics whose Church affiliation is shaken by all kinds of scandals and discouraging decisions. On the contrary, the recent intervention of the CCCB with regard to Development and Peace can only further weaken confidence in the pastoral authorities of the Church by creating confusion, deception and anger, even among some members of the clergy and even of the bishops. Is unity, in the name of which they have tried to justify this intervention, better served in this way?
An Appeal to the Diocesan Councils
In face of this betrayal of the mission of Development and Peace, resistance is called for. But where could it come from? In spite of the obstacles, there is already movement among the network of engaged members and the internal structures. In our opinion the key figure of this resistance must be found in the National Council of Development and Peace. It is urgent that its members reassess and reaffirm both their own autonomy in face of any abuse of power and their determination to respect the fundamental orientations of the organization, beginning with its mission of education and advocacy. This will require refusing to back down in face of any political or financial pressure.
In order to take up this challenge, it will no doubt be necessary to choose, as members of the Council and its executive, people who are convinced both of the urgency of this reassertion and also of pursuing the full mission of the Organization. We encourage the Diocesan Councils andlocal teams to support every effort in this direction. They will also need to stand up and exercisethe necessary pressure. We will be many, who will stand by your side.
The Quebec Group of Contextual Theology
Michel Beaudin, Céline Beaulieu, Guy Côté,
Lise Lebrun, Richard Renshaw