CCODP, Smith hold 'enriching dialogue'

December 17, 2012

Facing protests within the organization, massive budget cuts and a complete reorganization, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has held a Dec. 1 heart-to-heart with the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A frank exchange between national council members and CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith at the Development and Peace annual meeting in Montreal was "an extremely enriching dialogue," said outgoing national council president Ronald Breau.

"There was a really strong affirmation of D&P. He assured us of the support of the CCCB," Breau said.

Pat Kennedy, elected president at the meeting, said the relationship between the bishops and the organization had become stronger through creation of the Development and Peace liaison committee working with the bishops and the CCCB's own committee on Development and Peace.

Kennedy, a 60-year-old retired civil servant from Newfoundland and the former vice president of the national council, backs Smith's call for a calmer, more collaborative relationship with the bishops.

"He (Smith) said it very well that we need to move from confrontation to consultation. And in consultation, we need to come from a position of charity and love," Kennedy said.

Just before the annual elections, Development and Peace received another high-profile resignation.

In a four-page letter, University of Montreal theology professor Michel Beaudin quit the theology committee. He has been on the committee for five years and active in the agency for 40 years.

"There does not seem to be any place in Development and Peace at this point for a real theology committee," wrote Beaudin.

In October the Quebec youth wing of the organization withdrew its participation in both the fall education campaign and the 2013 Lenten fundraising campaign, citing the national council's decision to cave in to demands from the bishops to cancel a postcard campaign demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper initiate a parliamentary review of Canada's foreign aid policy.

"We're almost in a perfect storm situation. But I think the waters can be calmed," said Kennedy. "The strength of our faith will guide us through this perfect storm."

Kennedy wants to return the focus of the organization on its work with partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America. "I would like to ensure that we focus on the common issue of meeting the needs of people in the Global South and not spend so much energy on internal issues."

Kennedy rejects any suggestion a split is developing between its French and English halves. Kennedy, who was first involved in Development and Peace in Gaspé, Quebec, said he's seen the same concerns expressed across English Canada, though Quebeckers tend to be more publicly outspoken.

Development and Peace's 13,000 members have always been ready to advocate and fight for justice, said Kennedy.

"That energy right now is being directed internally within our organization. The people with those skills, right now they're focused on who we are as an organization."