Next week, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will hold its Plenary Assembly. We
understand that during this time you will discuss the incidents that have shaken Development and Peace over these last few months and will establish some guidelines to address them. I am taking this opportunity to write to you as representative of the Development and Peace staff so that we may express our concerns for our organization. Development and Peace is more than a job for us ; it is where we live out our commitment to social justice. We are writing to you today first and foremost because we hold Development and Peace, which we consider to be a jewel of the Canadian Catholic Church, very close to our hearts.
Staff at Development and Peace are very fearful as we look to the future. Over these last few years, the repeated attacks to which we have been subjected have destabilized Development and Peace in a number of ways. These unfounded allegations have shaken the confidence of many of the faithful and have made life very difficult for our members, the clergy who support our work, and of course, the staff. In order to continue the work of Development and Peace at the local level, the members and staff need the Canadian bishops to clearly and publicly state their support for our organization. Without this support, it will not be possible to carry on with our work.
These baseless allegations have also led to the implementation of several measures that are already having a major impact on the work and on the very mission of Development and Peace. For example, it is becoming more and more difficult for our partner organizations to collaborate or to work in networks with other organizations. In the ‘virtual’ world where one does not need proof in order to make accusations and to be believed, we fear that every time we want to work with other organizations, we risk being accused of something ‘by association’. Yet, we need to work in networks or in collaboration with other organizations on issues that are too broad or complex for one single organization to address. Corporate Social Responsibility is an example of such an issue and one that is at the root of many key development issues today. To stop networking with other organizations on questions of Corporate Social Responsibility would condemn Development and Peace to addressing only the symptoms of problems, rather than their causes. Such an attitude would be completely contrary to our mission.
Consequently, we no longer dare to speak out about the excellent work of our partners in the Global South. We are worried that by doing so, we will expose them to unjustified attacks. The case of PRODH of Mexico is a tragic illustration of the impact that these attacks can have on our partners. How can we speak out about the alternatives that our partners are proposing, about the dignity of the people who are bringing about change if we can’t name them ? How can we carry out effective education for international solidarity in the North if we can’t highlight the accomplishments of our partners? Would this not deny a fundamental dimension of the mission of Development and Peace ?
We have close relationships with several Churches in the South, where the latter are committed to the people, to the poor, to enacting justice and working for change. While our partners have clearly made the preferential option for the poor, not all bishops or bishops’ conferences have done so. Regrettably the official Church in some countries does not always take a stand against corruption, authoritarian regimes, violence or impunity. This is why we feared that each partner might be obliged to provide a letter of support from a local bishop in order to maintain support from Development and Peace.
What might have been the fate of partners working in these countries ? Could our partners, who often decry such situations, have obtained the support of their bishops? This, without taking into account that the mission of Development and Peace also includes working with non‐Catholic communities and in countries where church structures are almost non‐existent.
Happily, the recent joint statement by the CCCB and Development and Peace suggests to us that collaboration with local Churches will be desirable without becoming a formal requirement. Were it to become a requirement, it could have grave consequences, and seriously hamper our mission. We hope to soon receive clear guidelines on this issue, guidelines that will reflect the positions taken by the National Council.
We are also fearful about the real space given to members of Development and Peace. Since its creation our movement has been a democratic one, driven mainly by lay people, as was the wish of the founding bishops. We, the unionized staff, have witnessed a certain reduction of democratic spaces within the organization. For the last few months, in view of the urgent nature of the crisis, members, who are the heart of Development and Peace, have been increasingly relegated to the sidelines in decisions taken on issues that are crucial to the future of the organization. The National Council, even though it is the main decision‐making body, remained on the outside of the debate for several weeks. Development and Peace is at a major crossroads, the outcome of which is being decided in the offices of General Management, at the table of the Standing Committee put in place by the CCCB, and at the Development and Peace Liaison Committee. The majority of members are not participating in these key decisions. We hope that they provide material for further reflection and discussion Nonetheless, the commitment of lay people to solidarity and our democratic structures are key issues for Development and Peace. The concerns that we share with you today were communicated to the National Council last June.
We offer these reflections, Your Grace, in a spirit of solidarity,
Marcelle Sinclair, president,
Union of employees of Development and Peace