The decision taken by a majority of bishops at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual plenary meeting was prompted by a combination of ideological differences and minor legal changes in the structure of the ecumenical coalition to meet tax compliance concerns of the Canada Revenue Agency. For legal and tax purposes, Kairos has been a part of the United Church of Canada since it was founded in 2001.
“For Kairos to be able to function, they had to become, in essence, an expression of the United Church of Canada,” said Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini, who presented the motion to withdraw from Kairos at the September meeting of bishops. “What used to be a board in the sense of partners from different churches now becomes a steering committee, in essence, of one organization… It became a bit unusual for the CCCB to suddenly be a committee member of another Church.”
Kairos’s mostly left-wing culture of protest, along with policies and statements made on certain issues, chafed at times, Mancini said.
“Then there are strategies — strategies are different ways of trying to get your job done. Sometimes we didn’t agree with some of that,” the archbishop said.
Kairos board chair Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons said he hopes there will still be opportunities to work with the Canadian bishops.
“We have accepted this with regret,” said Parsons, a United Church minister in Newfoundland. “We are poised to be hopeful. We believe there will be opportunities in the future to collaborate directly with the bishops on joint projects and events.”
The CCCB will actively seek opportunities in future to collaborate with Kairos in individual projects, said Mancini.
The bishops contributed $57,500 to Kairos’s budget in 2016, amounting to 2.56 per cent of a total budget of $2,242,984. By way of notice, the CCCB will contribute another $28,750 in 2017. When Kairos was formed in 2001 the bishops were contributing close to $250,000.
While the Catholic bishops are exiting, both the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and 70 Catholic religious orders represented by the Canadian Religious Conference remain members. Of the 11 member churches and organizations in Kairos, only the CCCB declined to sign the updated memorandum of agreement circulated following a CRA audit.
The new memorandum of agreement made no change to the relationship between Kairos and the United Church of Canada, Jagger-Parsons said.
There may have been times official statements from Kairos went out with the logo of the CCCB affixed which the CCCB did not agree with, said Jagger-Parsons.
“I’m not saying that it’s impossible that there hasn’t been a statement that either the CCCB or an individual bishop has objected to,” he said. “I can’t recall an occasion where the CCCB has specifically alerted me that they have a problem with a statement that I have approved in my two-and-a-half years.”
The Kairos board works on a consensus basis and tries to avoid votes on its policies and statements, but there’s never an expectation that everybody agrees with everything, said Jagger-Parsons.
“There have been occasions when the CCCB hasn’t agreed with a particular policy. I don’t think that they are the only member where that has happened,” he said.
“There was always an assumption that because we were a member that we were in favour of what they were putting out. Well, that wasn’t always the case,” said Mancini.
Kairos’s present activities cover climate change, reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginal people, violence against women and the plight of migrants.
Since the 12 organizations were brought under the banner of Kairos Canada in 2001, the organization has faced a series of funding issues as many of its church partners dealt with shrinking revenues and budgets.
In turning away from Kairos the bishops are turning their back on in important chapter in post-Vatican II Catholic history in Canada, said theologian and Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc.
As a PhD student and lecturer at the University of St. Michael’s College in the 1980s, Mihevc researched and wrote about the history and theology of the 12 inter-church coalitions that were eventually folded into Kairos. The bishops’ decision “marks the end of really a noble period in the Canadian Catholic Church’s history,” said Mihevc.