REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT 2002 Plenary Assembly

Thursday, October 17 2002


2002 Plenary Assembly

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear brother Bishops, collaborators and invited guests:

Evidently, I cannot present my first annual report without reference to the historic event of World Youth Day 2002. It was marked by such wonderful emotions and joy, in the dioceses welcoming pilgrims and at the central celebrations in the Archdiocese of Toronto. This event will not only mark history; it has in fact become part of our salvation history for time to come. Once again, God was revealed to be proceeding ahead of us on the paths we are trying to open up. Once more, we see how faith marvellously transforms our lives and hearts and the heart and life of the Church. From now on, World Youth Day is an integral part of our own story and of our youth ministry. True, we have certain obligations to fulfill, but at the same time we are creating a heritage that calls out to be implanted by way of new projects. This question will be further explored in this meeting of our Plenary Assembly.

Another event of major importance we were privileged to live was the Continental Congress on Vocations to the Ordained Ministries and the Consecrated Life that was held this past April in Montreal. All of us were impressed by the number of delegates who attended and the quality of the interventions, as well as by the animation and enthusiasm that so characterized the Congress. Even more significantly, we were again reminded how the ideal, the attraction and the authenticity of following Christ remains a living reality. The force and the conviction of the presentations at the Congress certainly testified to the competence of the speakers. But they also enriched our Church in its grasp of the biblical, theological and cultural roots of vocation, and thus made the Church’s mission in our day even clearer. Here again, our Assembly will be invited to ensure there is adequate follow-up to the Congress by looking for the proper means to inspire and sustain the vocations ministry in our country.

In another development, more physical but symbolic nevertheless, we decided to purchase a building for our Conference offices. We will end our “house sharing” with the Archdiocese of Ottawa after renting from them for some 44 years; in December, we will be moving to 2500 Don Reid Drive in southeast Ottawa. The new space will be blessed in January on the occasion of the Permanent Council meeting.

My first year as President was busy with a number of different activities. In January, I was part of a symposium on the Holy Land, which met in Jerusalem. You will recall that four years ago, at the invitation of the Holy See, the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of America and Europe had been invited to meet with the Ordinaries of the Holy Land in order to become better informed about the sufferings of the Christians living there and also as a sign of solidarity. The Jerusalem meeting this past January was preceded by a working session in mid-December at the Vatican with the Holy Father and the Secretariat of State. This gave us an overview of the tragedy being experienced in the Holy Land. Then together with General Secretary Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, I had the opportunity of visiting the Gaza Strip and going to Ramallah. Along with some other bishops who were also visiting, we were able to meet the President of Israel and also the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Our meetings concluded with a series of propositions. The CCCB has begun follow-up on these, with a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada and two meetings with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was then also the Deputy Prime Minister. Another initiative was the suggestion that I made, at the beginning of Lent, to invite the faithful to increase their contributions to the annual Good Friday collection in order to assist the Ordinaries of the Holy Land in maintaining their schools. There are significant financial difficulties facing these schools, mainly because of the growth of unemployment among Palestinians which in turn makes it impossible for many of them to meet the costs of educating their children. It is too soon to know whether the final results of the 2002 Holy Land collection will involve a significant increase for this year. However, we do know there was a positive difference as of 1 September compared with the same time period last year. Furthermore, the Permanent Council has worked on updating a general policy framework to assist in future CCCB declarations on the Holy Land. Finally, as had been resolved in Jerusalem, should the situation not improve, we are again invited to go to another meeting there this coming January to look at ways to help assure the continued presence of the Church in the Holy Land.

Following a decision at a previous annual meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, there was also a special Washington, DC, conference during the first part of 2002 on Humanizing the Global Economy. An impressive gathering of experts from governments, universities and international agencies together with bishops met in order to deepen the understanding of this important question. You have already received a detailed report on this.

Following the Washington conference, the 2002 meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America was held in San Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. This was another occasion to expand our appreciation of the various perspectives that have been opened with the Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in America. Next February, it will be our turn to host this meeting in Quebec City, on the question of globalization and culture.

Among the events that happened over the past year, I wish to mention a special meeting of the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of America in Santo Domingo at the beginning of September. This provided an opportunity for each of the bishops who had been invited to give a presentation about his country’s legislation on life and the family. Thanks to the collaboration of our own Catholic Organization for Life and Family, I provided an outline on Canadian legislation, noting once again the challenges that face us as Catholic bishops.

Returning to the ongoing business of the Conference and its senior officers, I wish to note the very constructive visits in Rome following our last Plenary Assembly. As has been the case in previous years, this involved the Vice President, the General Secretary and myself as President. The exchanges with the heads of a number of Roman dicasteries were cordial and enlightening. From the commentaries a number of you have made regarding the report on the visit, I know you appreciate the importance of this regular contact with the dicasteries.

One of the questions that was part of our discussions in Rome continues to be an important preoccupation, namely the liturgy. The very existence of the “mixed commissions” for the liturgy, CIFTL and ICEL, is now in question, at least as we have known them over the past number of years. It is evident that as a Conference we need the mixed commissions. I have personally tried to be pro-active with the bishops of the other countries where English is spoken, as well as with our French-language counterparts, so we can have a common position. The question is far from resolved, and the coming year will be crucial for arriving at an understanding with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the future of our mixed commissions as well as the recognitio granted to our upcoming translations as well as those previously submitted.

As you well know, recent court decisions have brought to the fore the question of marriage involving partners of the same sex. Following the decision earlier this year of the Ontario divisional court, I wrote to the federal minister of justice, urging that this judgment be appealed. This question is an important reminder that we are living at a time when the prophetic role of the Church needs to be exercised with wisdom and courage.

The question of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy also has regained public attention, with controversies in the United States flowing over into our own country. However, the facts show that since the early 1990s, and the implementation of various diocesan protocols following the publication of our Conference’s document From Pain to Hope, the approaches that have been adopted are more adequate in their response. At the same time, a new working group in this area of concern has been established over this past year, under the leadership of Archbishops Brendan O’Brien and Roger Ébacher, to review what has been done on this issue and to consider broadening our approach on sexual abuse to include all vulnerable persons. This question will also be discussed during our Plenary Assembly.

There were some changes among Conference staff over the past year. After long years of service, Sister Donna Geernaert, S.C., is leaving her position as director of the Office for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews and Interfaith Dialogue to become general moderator of her religious congregation. She leaves a rich legacy for our Conference, and we will have the occasion, during this Plenary, to express our appreciation to her for her work and dedication. We also welcome her replacement, Sister Mary Jean Goulet, C.S.C. Another CCCB veteran also has left to take on a new ministry, Father Paul Boily, who has been replaced by Father Gaëtan Baillargeon as director of the French Sector National Liturgy Office.

With the assistance of the Knights of Columbus, our Conference has established a new secretariat to monitor and advise the Conference on Aboriginal issues in general.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family continues to prepare timely interventions and texts. Two that I wish to note in particular are its annual seminar on genetic and reproductive technologies, which this past year discussed the status of the human embryo, as well as its publication of a booklet on marriage, copies of which were sent to all members of Parliament.

I also wish to note the special assistance over this past year of the executive director of Development and Peace with correspondence and meetings that I had with the Prime Minister as well as with the Deputy Prime Minister, then also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, the Middle East and, most importantly, overseas development assistance.

During this meeting of our Plenary Assembly, we will be receiving the reports of the Episcopal Commissions that are at the service of our diocesan Churches. I wish to thank the members of the Commissions as well as all CCCB staff for their dedicated and careful work.

I am convinced this Plenary holds particular importance for us. As I indicated at the beginning of my report, we have been blessed by various major events over the past year. Among these were two pilgrimages that crossed our whole country: the pilgrimage of the relics of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day cross. We now see signs of new hope awakening in all our dioceses; we must not lose this new momentum. In a number of ways, we are all pilgrim people, as the Holy Father reminded us in urging to launch out into the deep with hope: Duc in altum.

Our efforts to find solutions to the questions that occupy us will require creativity, courage and solidarity. Forty years ago, the Second Vatican Council was beginning its work. Today, forty years later, the implementation of the Council continues to demand the same clear-mindedness, the same courage, the same enthusiasm. The Council shed new light on episcopal collegiality, and it is this that we must continue to exercise in our day-to-day decisions and undertakings.

Through the Spirit of God, the Church was born at Pentecost. May that same Spirit continue to be present in the ongoing development and renewal of the Church in all the dioceses of Canada!

Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.

Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil


Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops