Friday, 30 November 2012

Open Letter to National Council - member of the theology committee

(Translation from French, slightly abridged)
Dear members of the National Council of Development and Peace,
I know of no better way to express my perception of the flow of events at Development and Peace since 2009 than the following biblical text: “When there is no leadership in the land, the people die” (Proverbs 11, 14).[i]
My history and attachment to Development and Peace
A deep bond with Development and Peace has structured and inspired my whole journey as an adult. I feel viscerally attached to and in debt to Development and Peace. When I was in my twenties, in 1967, I knew a Church that knew how to draw the best out of youth. The Canadian Catholic Church ─ bishops, priests, Religious and laity ─ set up Development and Peace in order to respond to the call of Paul VI and Bishop Helder Camera. As a theology student, I had the good fortune to organize or to participate in several activities of the campaigns or the formations at the beginning of the Organization. In 1974, I became a regional animator at Development and Peace and then, two years later and until 1985, a researcher for the education programs regarding international solidarity.
In that year, I became professor in the faculty of theology at the University of Montreal and took up the task of integrating the fundamental inclusion of the Gospel imperative of social and international solidarity into the work of formation. For the next 22 years I devoted myself to that task. This period was also the occasion for much collaboration with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) as well as with the Social Affairs Committee of the Assembly of Quebec bishops (for which I was a collaborator from 1986-1989). In 2007, I retired from the university and, at that point, received an invitation to join the Theological Committee of Development and Peace.
My resignation from the Theology Committee
I was supposed to terminate the second term of my mandate in November 2013 and I had planned to accept a third term of three years. In the light of what I have just shared, you can understand how wrenching it is for me to announce to you, with great sadness and a certain amount of anger, but not without hope, my resignation from the Theology Committee. The only and unique motive for my resignation is simple in spite of its many elements: It has to do with a choice made by the General Management and by the Executive of the National Council in favour of a policy of indulgence and submission rather than of resistance in face of the external attacks Development and Peace has suffered since 2009.
Moreover, by autocratically monopolizing the information and the essential decision-making power, the leadership of the Organization has deliberately prevented the membership, the personnel, the majority of the members of the National Council as well as its committees, and also outside groups, who share our ideals, from having the involvement they should in the situation or of participating in the legitimate defence of Development and Peace.
The result, as far as I am personally concerned, is that the Theology Committee found itself facing a vacuum. (1) The Committee found itself without any real vis-à-vis with the group that mandated it, the National Council, which was itself practically placed under guardianship and rendered mute in spite of our repeated efforts and appeals. (2) The effects of the crisis on the work of the personnel and on the programs, along with the serious absence of communication between the General Management and the grassroots members has prevented the Theology Committee from pursuing important topics touching on the activities of the organization, including theological formation sessions for the staff. (3) The Committee has never been involved with the Liaison Committee of Development and Peace in the steps taken with the Permanent Committee of the CCCB in spite of the ecclesial and theological questions at stake.
Faced with the reality of a committee that no longer has any relationship or substantial object of reflection, I have, personally, come to the conclusion that my resignation is necessary.
Some additional considerations
Allow me some additional complementary considerations concerning (1) the external pressures, (2) the reaction taken in the name of Development and Peace and, (3) the situation of the Theology Committee. .
First of all, regarding the external actors: We know that the allegations of LifeSiteNews were not justified and that, if it were not for the financial cost, they could have been judged in court. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a small group of bishops, who can well be qualified as ultra-conservative, supported by the Secretary General of the Conference, have acted “as if” Development and Peace were at fault. In the Spring of 2011, shortly after the unilateral rejection of Father Arriaga (ProDH), a Mexican guest of Development and Peace, it would seem, according to what the Executive Director of Development and Peace himself reported to the staff, that there was a meeting between himself and the Secretary General of the CCCB in the office of the latter in Ottawa. In addition to strong reproaches, he received a long list of commands, apparently in the name of the CCCB, which were to be carried out under threat of serious consequences for ties with the bishops. Among these diktats, it would seem there was the removal of two long-time partners including ProDH in Mexico. There was also a demand for letters of apology to the two bishops involved in this visit, an interdiction to present any defence, and so on. Instead of turning to the regular instances of the Organization, the Executive Director, weakened by his isolation, capitulated.[1] Similar meetings may have taken place after this, but this time with elected representatives of the Organization. At the time I had the feeling that Development and Peace was forced to play in a bad film, disconnected from its reality.
It’s the same film we saw parading since then with, for example: (1) the imposition by the CCCB of a policy of Nihil obstat (weakened afterward when faced with the reaction it provoked) of the bishops of the South with regard to partners and programs of Development and Peace; (2) the de facto placing of the National Council under guardianship to the benefit of a parallel structure of liaison with the CCCB; [2] (3) the extreme timidity of the memo of the CCCB following the announcement by CIDA of the drastic reduction of the five-year subsidy of Development and Peace; (4) the revocation of the essential element of the 2012 Fall campaign in favour of the political interests of the CCCB in its relationship with the Harper government.
In fact, this bad film has a global dimension. All the organizations to which Development and Peace is affiliated, and that are grouped together in Caritas internationalis or in CIDSE, are undergoing similar pressures. It is a sign of a concerted effort with respect to them. These pressures go along with reducing the social teaching of the Church to one encyclical, Caritas in veritate.  Finally, this orientation is accompanied by the almost complete emptying of social justice from the agenda of the Church. (See for example, the elimination of the position of principal counsellor for matters of social justice at the CCCB and the recent rejection of a pastoral letter on the economic crisis.)
Is it not troubling to see the bishops dismantle or cause an “abortion” in this way of an organization that is considered a jewel of the Canadian Church, belonging integrally to it and one that cannot therefore be considered as a “thing” of the bishops only? Is it not troubling to see the bishops make Development and Peace the symbolic scapegoat of a certain kind of Catholicism that some bishops want to break away from in order to substitute, it would seem, a form of fundamentalism? How can we recognize the majority of the bishops in this? We are “scandalized” in the strong biblical sense, by this sort of reliance on the logic of authoritarianism and power alone that is so little like the Gospel. The members also experience a great suffering, even distress, in face of this sort of episcopal behaviour.  The only “consolation,” if there is any, is that we continue to believe that a majority of the bishops do not approve of a policy carried out in their name.
Is the dominant power of money gaining entrance?  On the one hand, that of the Harper government channelling public funds away from Development and Peace in order to redirect them toward mining companies for their “philanthropic” (public relations) projects and, on the other hand, that of some of the bishops in the richest dioceses[3]  serving a shameful blackmail.
As far as the reaction of Development and Peace goes, all that I have said does not excuse it, or very little. We cannot prevent outside attacks. Nevertheless, we have to react to them with the understanding of faith and of the Organization that we embody. This is precisely what has been lacking in the autocratic leadership of Development and Peace. They do not seem to have any anchoring in the identity and mission of the Organization, nor do they seem to have any socio-political analysis grounding their orientation, nor do they possess the basic theological references of this mission and its practice. Thus they found themselves at sea during the first storm. Rather than reacting by relying on the Organization as a whole and on its various functional levels and democratic processes, they surrendered to those facing them, by accepting, for all practical purposes, to become their internal executors. The leadership of Development and Peace now gives the impression of taking its orders directly from the CCCB.
So, finally, I come to the Theology CommitteeThere does not seem to be any place in Development and Peace at this point for a real Theology Committee. It has never been invited to work closely with the Liaison Committee or even to be represented. Are the bishops opposed to that? We could have contributed in this way to a discussion of the orientations of the Organization based on common references drawn from our faith tradition. For my part, after having spoken and intervened in vain, I judged that there was nothing left except to retreat and to keep silent in order to protest against the unacceptable, at least as a member of this Committee. This decision is all the more wrenching because the experience of the Committee itself was absolutely fraternal and stimulating, unforgettable.
And now?  
The policy followed up to this point by the leadership of the Organization would have had harmful consequences even if we were to set aside what resulted directly from the budgetary cuts provoked by the decision of CIDA. This policy has had a harmful effect on the spirit of the members and has discouraged the staff. It led to more than twenty devastating departures and resignations since May, 2012. Other resignations will perhaps still follow…
So, these are dark days and it has been a hard test of our hope. My departure from the Theology Committee should not be taken as a break with my commitment, but rather as a witness to the impasse in a situation. It is the form that my solidarity with the movement can take in the present circumstances and, most particularly, in the situation in which the Theology Committee finds itself. If I resign specifically from the Theology Committee, I remain a member of Development and Peace, at least for the moment, and I will continue to intervene to save it. I want also to tell you that, if the internal dynamic were reversed in a significant way, I would return to the Theology Committee very quickly. Obviously of course, if I were invited.
Among the conditions for a possible turn-about, the two following seem to me at this point unavoidable:
(1)  That the National Council take up once again its autonomous responsibilities as outlined in the Constitution of Development and Peace. That it take up once more the leadership of the Organization as well as its contact with the members and that it establish new references for dialogue with the CCCB through its normal exercise of authority and in another framework than what has been imposed on it.  

(2)  If the National Council took up this sort of turn-around with regard to the present dynamic, that would require a leadership more in agreement with the deep identity of Development and Peace, ready to defend it and capable of a further revival of the Organization. It is thus evident that the task cannot be confided to people who have actively led Development and Peace in the opposite direction.

For this reason, it is imperative that the National Council demand the resignation of the Executive Director and the Assistant Executive Director, and that it remove from its executive at least the out-going president and former president, in order to replace all these people by other people who are more in line with the fundamental orientations that are once again reaffirmed by the Organization.

Mark me well, in spite of all this, that I am not expressing here any personal hostility with regard to the persons mentioned as such. But, I do rather make the point that, as far as the basic orientations of Development and Peace go,  they disqualified themselves, in what certainly were difficult circumstances. The bond of confidence seems to me to have been irremediably broken in their case for any authentic revival of Development and Peace.

The members of Development and Peace are losing hope and,  for three long years now, the staff is suffocating on a daily basis. “Development and Peace is in agony,” was the title of an article yesterday in Le Devoir. [4] What does it take to get you to move to action?
In all friendship and solidarity,
Michel Beaudin,
Longueuil,  November 27, 2012

[1] The Theology Committee has already made this known to the National Council that was, up until then, quite uninformed. See the letter dated Easter 2011, which remains without a response from the Council.

[2] Even though in the effort to “force” Development and Peace to rescind its 2012 Fall campaign, as has been reported, the President of the CCCB did not even make an effort to consult the members of its own Permanent committee that is the official body in liaison with Development and Peace.

[3] With frankness (and courage) Bishop Champagne noted that «money talks» in an interview withProximo (Radio Ville-Marie), on June 11, 2011.

[4] Jean-Claude Leclerc, «L’agonie de l’organisme Développement et Paix. Une crise entre les laïcs et les évêques catholiques», Le Devoir, November 26, 2012, p. B 6.

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