Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 2010
Lay people rally to demand KAIROS funding
Ecumenical social justice ministry loses $7M funding from CIDA
Journey to Justice
At my parish last month, upon receiving a request from KAIROS - Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives - we joined churches around the world that prayed for the success of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit.
With 250 other churches across Canada, we rang our bells 350 times on Dec. 13 to mark the level of atmospheric carbon emissions, measured in parts per million, that the planet needs to reach. Later that same week, a parish committee met with folks from the local Anglican congregation and used one of KAIROS' animation tools called the "Blanket Exercise" to start a discussion about healing and reconciliation with aboriginal people.
KAIROS, formed in 2001, is an organization of 11 national churches and faith-based organizations which effects social change through advocacy, education and research programs. KAIROS has about 80 local grassroots groups across Canada. Participants in social justice ministry in Canadian Christian churches know KAIROS, use its animation resources and appreciate its work.
But on Nov. 30, staff of the Canadian International Development Agency Minister Bev Oda, called KAIROS to announce that its funding request had been rejected.
This $7 million over four years represents 40 per cent of KAIROS' budget. It will surely mean staff layoffs in Canada, the end to some educational campaigns, and most importantly, the end to funding for 21 partner groups working on human rights, peace and ecological justice in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
DOES NOT FIT 'PRIORITIES'
The only explanation given: that after three decades of funding KAIROS' work and that of its predecessor organizations in the Canadian churches, these projects no longer fit "CIDA's priorities."
A mountain of media coverage and public concern resulted on TV, major newspapers and thousands of letters written to politicians. Opposition parties regularly raised the issue in Parliament.
Yet official Catholic support for ecumenical social justice work through KAIROS has been curiously muted. Although both Development and Peace (D&P) and the Catholic bishops serve on KAIROS' board, their financial commitment to the organization has diminished over the years.
As a matter of fact, the bishops in 2004 cut their entire contribution of over $55,000 to KAIROS. Since then, they spend not a cent of their own money on KAIROS. Rather, they receive a negotiated amount from D&P and dutifully pass this on.
It is the faithful and generous contributions from Canadian Religious Conference (that is, religious sisters, brothers and priests) that grow the Catholic contribution to this social justice ministry.
A week after CIDA's cut was announced, D&P posted a letter on its website, asking for the government to reconsider its decision. The CCCB website displays no action at all on this pressing question. I interviewed the CCCB's associate general secretary, Bede Hubbard on Dec. 15 in an attempt to explain this silence.
Hubbard told me that on Nov. 27, CCCB President Bishop Pierre Morissette did write a short note to the CIDA minister, asking for the approval of the KAIROS funding application which had been waiting on the minster's desk since summer.
But, after meeting in early December, "the CCCB executive committee unanimously agreed that the Conference of Bishops will not embark on a campaign to pressure the Government of Canada to reconsider its funding decision."
A memo circulated to the bishops gave two reasons for inaction: "The international program of KAIROS has always been secondary for the CCCB" and "The CCCB is not convinced that such a campaign will result in success."
Further explaining their second argument, the memo goes on to report that the bishops expect the federal government to soon announce even more cutbacks to other programs, "in order to rebalance federal spending." So "the CCCB will want to focus especially on those which will have the greatest negative impact on the most vulnerable in our society" (emphasis added).
Contrast this response with that of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who stated on Dec. 9 that "The world needs more of KAIROS Canada. It would be an unparallelled setback for the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised if the voice and work of KAIROS in the global South is muted."
Gerry Barr, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, said, "Without a doubt the whole NGO community in Canada is looking at this (government) decision with concern. The question is being asked about political selection in funding by this government."
The board of Citizens for Public Justice echoed this concern in their letter to the prime minister, stating "CPJ is concerned that this decision may be another in the trend to discontinue funding of groups who raise questions about current policies, thereby silencing some of the diverse voices that are essential for a healthy public debate about international issues of justice and stewardship of global resources.
"Along with a reconsideration of this decision, we suggest that your government clarify its position with regard to respect for the important, independent role of civil society organizations in the promotion of human rights and democracy, both globally and in Canada."
After Masses at our parish, an announcement was read to tell us about the KAIROS cuts. A petition was available at the back of the church, and many lined up to sign it and discuss this distressing news. It looks like lay people will have to lead the way in defending ecumenical social justice ministry in the Catholic Church in Canada.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, http://www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization. It should be noted that in the past Joe represented Catholic groups on the KAIROS board and served as the founding vice-chair).
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