Thursday, 9 June 2011

Letter of a Toronto Member

Dear Michael:

            In 1995, while I was a member of Development and Peace’s National Council, and while I was a member of Latin America II, a Development and Peace project review committee responsible for reviewing projects submitted to Development and Peace by our partners in Brazil (among certain other South American countries), I participated in meetings in Rio de Janeiro with representatives of 25 of our Brazilian partner organizations. I also participated in three days of meetings with representatives of Global North development agencies similar to ours. I was accompanied by xxxx and xxxx at all of the said meetings.

            On the Saturday evening of the second set of meetings to which I have referred, I participated in a meeting with some of those who were present at the three days of meeting which took place that weekend. xxx and xxx were with me. The meeting took place entirely in Portuguese, without any simultaneous translation of any sort. It became obvious to me during the meeting that one of the items of discussion was quite contentious.  During the discussion, the chair of the meeting turned to me (I assume that I had been introduced by my colleagues as a member of Development and Peace’s National Council – I don’t remember whether I was yet Vice President of National Council). The following conversation ensued.

“Do you know what we are talking about?”

“No, I don’t, because I don’t speak Portuguese. But that’s alright.  Continue with the discussion. My colleagues will summarize the discussion for me after the meeting.”

“I’ll tell you right now what we’re discussing. All of us have been asked by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil that henceforth, we will support only those projects that have been approved by them. Do you agree with this?”

Being altogether and immediately stunned by the enormity of what I had just been asked, I replied, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not!”

“Once would have been enough.” (I could tell that my questioner was displeased, needless to say.)

I report, Michael, that after the meeting was concluded, and when xxx, xxxx and I were in a place where we could discuss the goings-on at the aforesaid meeting just concluded, xxx said with some laughter, “I wondered what you were going to say when the question was put to you, Keith. Happily, you gave the right answer!”

In light of more recent events, I now wonder with a great deal of sadness whether my answer in 1995 – it is an answer I would give yet again this very day in 2011 - would be greeted with the same response even by my own colleagues.

Michael, I have been a Development and Peace member for thirty years. During that time, I have likely contributed tens upon thousands of volunteer hours in the furtherance of the work of Development and Peace. I have served in very nearly every capacity that comes to my mind. I have been a diocesan council chair. I have been a National Council member. I have served on numerous subcommittees. I have even served as a temporary part-time Development and Peace animator, and for a short while even managed Development and Peace’s Toronto office. On occasion, I have been called a Development and Peace ‘elder,’ reminiscent of the use of that term by First Nations people. I am not at all sure that the term should apply to me. I am a Share Year Round donor. When I die, part of what I leave behind will be contributed to Development and Peace.

I cannot begin to tell you adequately enough how deeply troubled I am by the recent direction made in the name of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) that Development and Peace will consult with local Global South bishops in order to obtain their approval with regard to development programs we may otherwise be interested to pursue in this or that local bishop’s diocese. I am even more troubled that we may have acquiesced to this demand and that our international development program department staff members are to govern themselves accordingly.

Michael, I ask you in all earnestness to use your good office to ensure that we have a fruitful dialogue with our bishops on the issue at hand. I note that dialogue is a two-way process. I also ask you in all earnestness to continue to respect, as I am sure that you do, that Development and Peace’s National Council must be consulted whenever any such direction is made as has been made in the name of the CCCB in relation to the issue at hand. I cannot help but think that the confidence of Development and Peace members in the movement to which they are so deeply committed will otherwise be eroded.

Please keep me advised as the issue at hand goes forward.

Keith Gauntlett

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