To the people and organisations who support us in our fight for social justice,
Recently, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace — Caritas Canada has been the subject of several articles in various national media. Today, we feel that it is important to affirm what our beloved organization is and what it stands for.
Speaking or adopting a position on issues as divisive, polarizing and ethically fraught as abortion (and, to another extent, contraception) remains a delicate exercise. Mutual respect is essential in addressing such sensitive issues that are subjects of public debate as much in Canada as across the world, both in the Global North and the Global South. Created by the bishops of Canada in 1967 following Vatican II, Development and Peace is a pan-Canadian lay-led democratic movement with over 10,000 members. As such, it is no exception to these debates.
Thus, over three years, we had an internal discussion to clarify the positions of some of our partners on these and other issues. This internal review, initiated by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), was conducted jointly by the CCCB and Development and Peace. Its objective was to ensure the consistency of our partners’ actions with the Church’s moral teachings. The publication of the results of this review, along with media conjecture on some of our internal reports, has prompted all kinds of questions.
However, neither this review nor its intent and interpretation truly represent what Development and Peace is about. The raison d’être, objectives and action of Development and Peace cannot be reduced to these debates. Indeed, the organization has worked for over 50 years to propose alternatives to unjust economic and social structures, to promote human dignity and to advance women’s rights in a complex world. It continues to conduct and be guided by work on gender justice; ecological justice; democracy and citizen participation; and peace and reconciliation.
Issues of abortion and contraception are part neither of our mandate, experience and expertise nor of the partners’ projects that we support. That said, as the Most Rev. Pierre Goudreault, a member of Development and Peace’s national council, has asserted, “Respect for life remains an important value for the Catholic Church.” Our mission remains in line with this and always operates to the benefit of the most vulnerable and marginalized people, without any form of discrimination.
Moreover, with 70% of our staff being women, a national council with a similar gender balance and 52 diocesan councils nationwide 80% comprised of women, Development and Peace continues retaining the advancement of women’s rights as a strategic priority. This is also evinced by the updating of our Gender Policy in 2019; our recent May Peace be with Her and Women at the Heart of Change campaigns; and our thematic focus on Equality between men and women. Gender justice is something we insist on!
Gender equality considerations and cognizance of the differences between the needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls and those of men and boys are the cornerstones of our analyses and of the projects of our civil society partners in the Global South. We focus on a variety of needs that find expression in the field and that are aligned with both our mandate and the rights long claimed by women. These include human dignity; political rights; inclusive governance; people’s participation in decisions that affect them; social and economic empowerment; adapting to climate change; combatting violence against women; a role for women in peace and reconciliation; and primary, maternal and child healthcare and psychosocial support. Women have no dearth of urgent needs and just demands. They are multiple, diverse and pressing.
Our vocation, our work, our service, our “preferential option for the poor” and our positive impact upon the lives of people living are only possible because of the continual trust and support of our members, donors, faith communities, allied organizations and partners who share our vision of commitment and solidarity.
The federal government, too, has been an important historical partner of Development and Peace since 1968, earlier through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and now through Global Affairs Canada (GAC). We have consistently demonstrated our organizational capacity, the relevance of our work and the concreteness of our positive impact on the most vulnerable populations whom we seek to empower. Our projects meet the development sector’s standard evaluation criteria, including those pertaining to gender equality. Despite sometimes differing with its analysis or positioning on various issues, we work effectively and closely with the Government of Canada “to eradicate poverty,” to fight inequality and to build “a more peaceful, more inclusive and more prosperous world.”
Examples of this essential work include the provision of civic and voter education to over 10 million citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; of healthcare to victims of the Syrian crisis; of access to safe and sustainable shelter to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and of economic, social and medical assistance to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. Between 2017 to 2019, the Government of Canada contributed the $40 million to these efforts. Remarkable as it is, that number is less significant than the dramatic realities, the projects of hope and the dignity of the people—women and men—we serve with a common will.
Like many other faith-based organizations in Canada, Development and Peace is a living, active signifier of the solidarity and generosity of many people of faith who, motivated and committed by their faith, always act for the benefit of their neighbours. Catholics in the etymological sense of universality, and prophetic because we are dedicated to just social change, we continue to support impoverished people, in accordance with the Gospels and the parable of the Good Samaritan and in communion with our beloved Pope Francis.
In the remotest and most forgotten corners of the world, among the “smallest” and most marginalized people, the Catholic Church remains a key actor in solidarity in many areas (education, health, social nets, reconciliation, political engagement, emergency aid, etc.). Indeed, one of our members in Kingston avowedly supports Development and Peace “because it ‘lives out loud’ Catholic social teachings through its partnerships with grassroots organizations and social movements in the Global South that work to effectively address root causes of poverty and injustice.”
Beyond the differences we may have on many issues, we need the diversity of everyone’s strengths to achieve our common, unifying goal that we must not lose sight of. We are all called upon to participate, according not only to our talents, vocations and resources, but also our values, constraints and perspectives. We are all still working in the same direction. We wish to renew what has always been our invitation: a commitment to improve the living conditions of the world’s most vulnerable people, especially women. This is what we at Development and Peace — Caritas Canada proudly continue to dedicate ourselves to.
On behalf of the entire Development and Peace — Caritas Canada team,