Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Letter to Archbishop Smith by Herbert J. O’Hearn

Archbishop Smith
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
2500 Don Reid Dr.
Ottawa, ON
K1H 2J2

Dear Archbishop Smith:

I am writing as a concerned Catholic in follow-up to a recent article in the Globe and Mail in which International Development Minister Julian Fantino announced the Government’s intention to see Canada’s international development agency align itself more closely with the private sector and work more explicitly to promote Canada’s economic interests abroad.

In hindsight, it is difficult to argue that Development and Peace’s call for a public discussion about the direction of Canada’s foreign aid program this past fall was anything but prophetic. One can only assume that this announcement comes as a surprise to the Conference in that it had explicitly informed Development and Peace, and through it Canadian Catholics, that they would be ill-advised to object to the commercialization of Canada’s foreign aid program, as this might upset delicate negotiations between the Conference and the Harper government. It would seem that these discussions were either unsuccessful, or that they had little to do with the interests of the world’s poor.

In light of the Government’s now publicly announced intention to turn its back on the world’s poor, unless our aid money can do double duty by helping Canada’s business community, I wonder if the Conference has seen fit to amend its position? Is the Conference still asking Canadian Catholics to stand idly by while the declared objective of Canada’s foreign aid program moves from poverty eradication to business promotion? When did “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” become one of the beatitudes?

I know that as a Canadian taxpayer I am called to voice my objection to any such perversion of Canada’s foreign aid program. However, I am not entirely certain that I enjoy this same privilege as a Catholic. Were I to write to the Government as a concerned Catholic would I be violating the unity of the Church? If I were to be joined by others in my parish are we able to declare our action an expression of our Catholic faith? Were an entire Diocese, or dare say a major Catholic organization now to make a similar appeal to keep Canada’s assistance effort focused on the poor, would it be a violation of the CCCB’s instruction?

As a Catholic activist, I must ask if we as Catholics can expect some clarification from the Conference as to whether or not we as Catholics are called to defend the Gospel values of sharing and solidarity in this case, or whether some sort of exception needs to be made? Are we able to advocate within the Church for a greater level of democratic participation in the design of Canada’s foreign policy, or is merely calling for a public discussion somehow partisan? More importantly, can we anticipate any leadership from the CCCB on the substance of the issues involved? Are Canada’s bishops prepared to comment on the Government’s intention to sacrifice the fundamental precepts of one of the world’s more progressive foreign aid programs on the altar of “Canada’s Economic Action Plan”.

As I understand it, your earlier intervention was premised on preserving Church unity, surely we as Catholics are not only called to unity but entitled to be united under our Bishops leadership in defending the interests of the poor and oppressed.

Thanking you for it in advance for your reply, I remain

Yours in Christ

Herbert J. O’Hearn

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