Dear Brother Bishops, Guests and Members of Staff:
In his first Encyclical Letter, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the Church’s principal area of action in its relations with the world is to “reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice … cannot prevail and prosper (28).”
“To reawaken spiritual energy” - this is the duty of every ecclesial body, and particularly that of an Episcopal Conference. During the past year, there has been no shortage of areas of activity. The redefinition of marriage, the defence of immigrants’ rights, euthanasia and assisted suicide, assisted reproduction, the situations in the Middle East, Africa and South America – all have been opportunities for our Conference to be involved, socially and ethically, of course, but also at the pastoral and spiritual levels.
The Synod on the Eucharist was held in the fall of 2005. The four Canadian Bishops participating as CCCB delegates, as well as Cardinal Marc Ouellet at the invitation of the Holy Father, had an opportunity to witness Pope Benedict XVI’s impressive listening skills. Together, the Synod participants endeavoured to discern “how the Eucharist, with its infinite richness, can better be a source of liberation, of transformation and of consolation for the world.
”More recently, the Holy Father convoked the XII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in the Vatican, 5 to 26 October 2008, on the theme “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church”. In order to begin preparing, you will be invited this Wednesday, during the Sector meetings, to nominate Synod delegates, with these nominations to be voted on by the Plenary this Friday.
From 22 November to 2 December 2005, accompanied by CCCB Vice-President Archbishop James Weisgerber and General Secretary Msgr. Mario Paquette, I took part in the annual visit to the dicasteries of the Holy See. As you will have noted in the report you received following the visit, a number of issues were addressed at that time.
One important topic was the CCCB proposed decree on the Sacrament of Penance. Other discussions and exchanges took place on this topic during the year, but the proposed decree has not yet obtained recognitio from the Holy See. On Friday, we shall reflect anew on this project.
The reorganization of six dioceses in Northern Quebec and two dioceses of Newfoundland and Labrador has also been discussed with the Holy See. The details of this reorganization are based essentially on a report produced by an ad hoc committee of the Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec. The dioceses concerned are Amos, Baie-Comeau, Chicoutimi, Joliette, Labrador City-Schefferville, Moosonee, St. George’s and Trois-Rivières. This major reorganization will be studied by the Permanent Council over the coming days, in order to make a recommendation to the Holy See, in view of its agreeing to the new territorial boundaries that are being proposed.
Our Episcopal Conference also turned its attention to various issues on the international scene. From 14 to 19 January 2006, I visited the Holy Land with other Bishops from North America and a number of European countries. Msgr. Paquette also took part in this visit, which gave us an opportunity to observe the difficulties being faced by Christians in the Holy Land.
The meetings highlighted the need to further strengthen links with them by implementing, as suggested by one of the participants, the triple-P rule, that is: Pray for the advent of peace and justice, promote Pilgrimages to preserve the vitality of historic sites and thus contribute to the local economy, and continue to exert Pressure on the religious and political authorities. Needless to say, the war between Israel and Lebanon has aggravated the situation and increased the need for greater solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
On this topic, I would like to emphasize the interventions by the Conference to promote a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Through the intermediary of Archbishop Roger Ébacher, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, the CCCB launched an appeal to the Canadian government, requesting humanitarian aid for the people affected by the war.
Following the visit to the Holy Land, we were plunged into an entirely different context – the Church in America. This year, the CCCB hosted the 34th Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, which took place in Toronto on 14 and 15 February, bringing together approximately 20 participants. I am particularly grateful to Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic and the Archdiocese of Toronto for their hospitality and collaboration. As well as serving as a forum for exchange and fraternity, the meeting provided an opportunity to reflect on the place and role of the laity in the Church in America.
Still on the international scene, we should mention the contribution made by Development and Peace in the elections held on 30 July 2006 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A delegation of five persons, including Bishop Luc Cyr, participated in an observation mission in the Katanga region, 21 July to 5 August.
Development and Peace has also supported many other projects. During the past year, the agency had to relocate its Montreal office and, like the CCCB, is currently involved in a process of restructuring and rationalization.
Closer to home, the CCCB also spoke out on a number of issues fundamental to Canadian society. During the last federal election, the Permanent Council issued a message to Catholics, exhorting them to think critically when exercising their right to vote. They were especially asked to express their expectations and demands to the various political candidates and to question them on their ethical, social and economic positions.
In another message entitled “To be People of Life and for Life” the Permanent Council adopted a position on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. In particular, the Council denounced the fact that this Act does not prohibit the destruction of human embryos. As well as encouraging Canadian Catholics to participate in consultations on the implementation of the Act, the pastoral message urged legislators to promote respect for human life at all stages, including the embryo.
The Catholic Organization for Life and the Family (COLF) denounced Bill C-407 on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Canadian parliamentarians were asked to reject any new attempts to legislate assisted suicide and euthanasia in Canada; as well, they were reminded that palliative and home care constitute a much more logical approach than legalizing the most extreme abuse possible, killing another human being.
The issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide also garnered attention at the Seventh Seminar on Bioethics organized by the Catholic Organization for Life and the Family in March 2006. Researchers, ethicists and health professionals shared their opinions on this difficult issue. Three Bishops also participated: Archbishop Bertrand Blanchet, Bishop Ronald Fabbro, C.S.B. and Bishop Jean Gagnon.
Immigration was another subject of concern. In November 2005, the CCCB Human Rights Committee addressed a letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration concerning the Canadian government’s refusal to implement an appeal process for refugees as provided under the Immigration Act. In January 2006, the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs published a pastoral letter on migrants and refugees. As well as providing an overview of the various issues and problems relating to immigration, the letter identified some of the measures that should be adopted to allow immigrants access to all public services, just recognition of their professional qualifications, and easier access to the job market. The letter was well received, not only by political authorities but also by the general public and various agencies. The protection of refugees was also a major element of this pastoral letter.
Although recognized in law, the marriage of persons of the same sex has again aroused deep interest because of the Conservative government’s expressed desire to resume the debate in the House of Commons. It appears that the members of the House will be asked to vote during this fall on whether to reopen this debate. This represents a second opportunity to present our point of view to elected politicians. During this summer, the Catholic Organization for Life and the Family sent CCCB members a series of documents to encourage the faithful to contact their members of Parliament in the hope of convincing them to respect the nature of marriage and preserve its historical definition. The CCCB is continuing to monitor this debate very closely.
On another topic, the CCCB was also required to react to public comments by Catholics on pastoral, disciplinary or organizational issues within the Catholic Church. Among these I would mention the letter signed by a group of 19 priests and the message from the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) on the occasion of the 2006 ad limina visits. The Executive Committee gave as much attention as possible to these comments, but was unable to satisfy the authors fully. Nevertheless, dialogue remains open and a meeting is planned this fall with CRC representatives to discuss the content of their message and other topics of common interest in the Church.
Before concluding this brief overview of the past year’s activities, I would like to make some observations on questions that more specifically concern the CCCB and the life of the Catholic Church in Canada.
The draft protocol on the management and prevention of sexual abuse has been subjected to a rigorous examination. An ad hoc committee was created in February 2006 to study legal opinions by two law firms as well as comments from a consultation of all the members of the Episcopal Conference. In the light of the ad hoc committee’s report, the Permanent Council agreed to resubmit the question of a possible protocol to our Plenary Assembly, in order to establish a basis for joint action. A crucial question remains and we must reply to it: “Do we wish to maintain the current voluntary measures or to adopt obligatory measures for all Canadian dioceses?” At the end of a lengthy process which has been underway for four years, we all agree on the urgency of clarifying our position with regard to a situation that we not only wish to correct but to eradicate.
The CCCB restructuring process also engaged the attention of the Executive Committee and the Permanent Council. Joined by Archbishop André Richard and Bishop Clément Fecteau to ensure greater regional representation, the members of the Programs and Priorities Committee, first of all identified possible avenues for action. Then during its meetings in April and June 2006, the Permanent Council reflected at length on the proposed approaches, and agreed to seek the opinion of the Plenary Assembly a second time. As you will note next Thursday, specific recommendations have been formulated. We must specify the options that we wish to put forward, taking into account the capacities of our Episcopal Conference and those tasks we consider a priority.
The financial aspect of World Youth Day 2002 has also resurfaced. Following steps to proceed with the dissolution of the corporation Catholic World Youth Day 2002 Council, the Executive Committee agreed to reimburse most of the surplus of the voluntary contributions by Canadian episcopal corporations to absorb the WYD 2002 deficit. An amount in proportion to the individual contributions was forwarded this summer to the participating episcopal corporations, and a further amount will be issued to them as soon as the dissolution of the corporation has been officially approved.
This concludes the list of main activities that took place over the past year. Despite the current restructuring process and a marked decrease in the number of permanent staff assigned to the various CCCB services, I believe that the Conference has been able to meet the challenges encountered during the year. I wish to pay special tribute to Conference personnel, not only for their exceptional support, loyalty and dedication, but also for their understanding and optimism in the current restructuring process. I also wish to express my gratitude to Msgr. Mario Paquette, who is completing his first three-year term as General Secretary.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten us during our Plenary Assembly, and enable us to make the decisions that will help our Church exercise its pastoral role more effectively and reawaken the spiritual energies of our world.
For more information contact:
Director, Communications Service
Tel: (613) 241-9461
Fax: (613) 241-9048
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