A "culture of silence" and deference to "political conservatism" has infected the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), charges the head of the Jesuit-founded Centre Justice et Foi (Justice and Faith) in Montreal.
In an open letter to CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith, Elisabeth Garant said the elimination of the CCCB's post of senior advisor for social justice, delaying and blunting the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace's fall education campaign, inviting Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney to a private meeting and not criticizing refugee policy reforms amount to a "serious step back away from the rich Church tradition of social justice."
However, the CCCB, in a Nov. 16 news release, says it remains committed to social justice causes, both in Canada and around the world.
When the conference changed its governance structures several years ago, it opted to keep its Commission for Justice and Peace as one of only three commissions, the release noted.
Garant served five years as a member of the justice and peace commission.
She accuses the bishops of cozying up to the Conservative government because, she said, the CCCB has not engaged the Canadian government on an issue of social justice since December 2010.
At that time, Kenney dismissed a letter from the bishops' justice and peace commission as another in "a long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops' conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy."
"From that moment we observe a silence," said Garant. "Why are we silent on things that are not our personal issues but that we think for the common good we need to talk about?"
She also questions the CCCB for laying off social justice advisor Francois Poitras to help get its finances in order.
The CCCB release said the second phase of restructuring the conference included the elimination of 18 positions and the addition of three new jobs.
"This restructuring process aims to make the CCCB more efficient, less costly and better equipped," it says. It will "allow the CCCB to respond in a more timely and efficient manner to the many social justice issues of the hour."
The bishops remain committed to justice issues and are currently "continuing to encourage" the federal government on a number of justice-related issues, states the release.
It also cited a number of justice-related coalitions and activities of the conference and noted that its recent plenary included two analytical reflections on the current economic situation.
Garant also disputes the CCCB's explanation behind the delay of the Development and Peace fall campaign.
In a joint letter, the CCCB and Development and Peace said the campaign was delayed and modified because "concern was expressed that elements of the original materials could be a source of division among bishops, priests, parishioners and donors."
"They are saying they do that for the sake of some faithful who will be hurt," said Garant. "There's no real proof of what they are talking about."