Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon, president of the CCCB.

For the first time in a half-century, Development and Peace will appeal for funds during Lent without an explicit letter of support from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

But Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon, the president of the CCCB, said people shouldn’t read too much into it.

In previous years, Share Lent magazines and online fundraising kits always included a letter from the president of the CCCB encouraging Canadians to be generous with their prayers and donations.

This year the CCCB letter has been replaced with a message jointly from Development and Peace national council president Evelyne Beaudoin and executive director Serge Langlois.

Gagnon, elected CCCB president in September, said the missing letter should not be interpreted as non-support. He doesn’t recall being asked to provide a letter.

“It’s a non-story, basically,” he said. “It just didn’t materialize this year, that’s all.”

In recent years, even as the CCCB investigated Development and Peace partners accused of failing to support Church teaching on abortion and other moral issues, CCCB presidents Bishop Douglas Crosby and Bishop Lionel Gendron provided supportive letters to the Share Lent fundraising material.

CCCB staff in Ottawa believe a request for a letter was forwarded to Gagnon, “but unfortunately it was received during a time of extended travel on behalf of the conference and, at the time of your conversation (with Gagnon) yesterday, it was simply a matter of not fully recalling the events surrounding the timing of the request,” CCCB communication co-ordinator Lisa Gall said in an email.

Gagnon believes the request just “got lost in the shuffle this year.”

“Development and Peace and the bishops have been quite busy with this program of renewal that they’ve been working on together, so this never came up,” he said.

Gall also points to the CCCB’s ongoing review of Development and Peace’s partnership policies.

“In light of the fact that the CCCB and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace are in a period of joint review and dialogue, the CCCB has not yet published a letter for this year’s campaign,” she wrote. “However, this does not preclude the preparation and issue of a letter when it is more opportune.”

Share Lent revenues have declined since the bishops’ conference began its investigation into Development and Peace partners. In 2017-18 Share Lent took in $6.7 million compared with $8.3 million in 2016-17. Before the CCCB investigation began in 2015-16 the Share Lent campaign brought in $8.8 million.

While the campaign doesn’t hinge on a letter from the bishops’ conference, it’s not an inconsequential contribution.

“Share Lent is an important moment for Catholics across Canada to come together and make a difference for the poorest and most vulnerable people of our world,” said Development and Peace spokesperson Kelly Di Domenico in an email. “As we prepare to pray, to fast and to give generously, a letter from the CCCB president is an encouragement and inspiration for our volunteers who bring Share Lent to life in their parishes.”

A letter from Gagnon still might be added to the material before Ash Wednesday on Feb. 26, Di Domenico told the Quebec Catholic news outlet Presence.

Beaudoin and Langlois’ replacement letter emphasizes the grassroots character of Development and Peace and its 180 partners around the world.