The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has reaffirmed its ongoing collaboration with Development and Peace (CCODP), walking a fine line between respecting its lay-run character and ensuring its Catholic identity.
"The most important thing to emphasize is the bishops are working with D&P on their fall campaign," CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith said in an Oct. 1 interview.
During the annual CCCB plenary in Sainte-Adele, Quebec, a report appeared in the National Post and its sister papers that accused the bishops of blocking CCODP's fall educational campaign for being too political.
The stories saying the bishops intervened, blocked or stopped the fall program are inaccurate, the archbishop said.
The bishops support the principle of CCODP's annual fall education campaign "to make people aware of the plight but also the reasons behind it," Smith said.
CCODP can embark on educational programs, but when the strategy includes working through the parishes in local dioceses, it must have the consent of the local bishop, he said.
In this year's fall campaign, CCODP departed from its plan of focusing on environmental themes to raising questions about Canada's international aid policies, following substantial reductions in CIDA grants over the next five years.
"Some of the material was becoming a little more direct political lobbying than we're accustomed to," Smith said.
Some bishops, Smith included, expressed concern the materials might cause divisiveness in parishes and among donors.
The bishops must ensure "whatever's done fosters the unity of the Church and is in no way divisive" or causing conflict, he said.
Smith said he spoke to the leadership of CCODP about the concerns, which they received graciously, openly and with a "readiness to understand."
CCODP's leadership "gave some thought to the impact on the life of the Church" of their campaign and told the CCCB they would "adjust their literature to reflect our concerns."
Smith described an open and frank discussion among the bishops and CCODP's president and executive director, who both got a chance to respond to the plenary.
The fall program will stick with the foreign aid theme, he said, the details are CCODP's "bailiwick."
CCODP executive director Michael Casey said they were "very pleased" with the discussion at the plenary, sharing Smith's assessment that it was "open and frank" and stressed the need for Church unity.
"We as an agency of the Church are fully in support of that," Casey said in an interview from Montreal Oct. 2.
Casey said CCODP is revising its materials in light of its discussions with the bishops and will launch a revised campaign on Oct. 15.