TORONTO (CCN) — A recent decision to withdraw from KAIROS doesn’t in any way diminish the commitment of Canada’s bishops to ecumenism or social justice action, according to the bishops.
“We are committed in a number of different ways. One of the primary ways is as a member of the Canadian Council of Churches,” said Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini.
Mancini is a member of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops permanent council, which advised that the CCCB leave KAIROS at the bishops’ September plenary meeting. The decision was made due to a combination of ideological differences and changes to the legal structure of KAIROS.
The CCCB was among the founding members of KAIROS in 2001. It is an ecumenical social justice co-operative supported by 11 different church bodies but legally operated as an arm of the United Church of Canada.
The CCCB now sponsors and participates in eight ecumenical dialogues with Christian churches and four interfaith dialogues.
“As for being committed to justice issues, well the Canadian Council of Churches has a commission for justice and peace and we are part of that,” Mancini said.
Where KAIROS lobbied the government, organized protests and petitions and issued letters to government ministers based on broad policies set by its member churches, the Canadian Council of Churches never makes a statement on behalf of a member church without first consulting directly and specifically with church leadership. No statement goes out without all the signatory churches being individually consulted. Every church has the option of not signing.
“Yes it is effective and yes it is efficient,” said Canadian Council of Churches executive director Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton. “Depending on how one chooses to define the term.”
For the most inclusive church council in the world, the process of consulting all 25 member denominations can take some time. Quick response on the issues of the day sometimes suffers, Hamilton conceded.
“Every voice gets heard and every concern expressed,” she said. “There’s an airing of concerns and deep nuance. So when our statements go forward they have the full backing of the denominations that represent more than 85 per cent of Christians in the country.”
KAIROS steering committee chair Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons does send letters and make statements based on policies that have already been discussed at the steering committee level. The CCCB is represented on the steering committee by the staffer responsible for ecumenical and interfaith relations, Kyle Ferguson. Though a specific issue, event or initiative may not have been discussed, Jagger-Parsons will proceed if the protest, letter or statement is in line with a general policy.
“I can’t recall an occasion where the CCCB has specifically alerted me that they have a problem with a statement that I’ve approved in my two-and-a-half years,” Jagger-Parsons told The Catholic Register.
When Hamilton sent a letter to Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion concerning Canada’s participation in nuclear disarmament talks on Aug. 10, there wasn’t time to secure CCC member signatures. Acting on her own, all Hamilton could do was remind Dion of previous CCC statements and emphasize how important nuclear disarmament is to most Canadian churches. Even that statement only reached Dion after the UN nuclear talks had already been convened in February and May and were then meeting one final time in August.
The CCC did contribute a statement of all its churches to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2014, six years after the TRC was commissioned, but a year before it issued its final report.
“KAIROS didn’t allow for the kind of consultation or comfort zone that we might have wanted as bishops on a number of different projects that KAIROS was involved in,” said Mancini. “Sometimes the points that are being made might be very interesting, or might be of value. But on a number of instances that I’m aware of, we as bishops did not have a position on the subject that they were protesting or commenting on.”
KAIROS was formed out of 12 inter-church committees that had begun work in the 1970s with financial support and involvement by Catholic bishops, religious orders and Catholic institutions.
The United Church became KAIROS’ overseeing body so it could issue charitable tax receipts and so that its lobbying and political activity would not run afoul of tax laws that limit charities to only 10 per cent of budget allocations for political activity.