Report of the President: 2005 Plenary Assembly

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Report of the President: 2005 Plenary Assembly
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4. Ongoing challenges
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My fellow bishops, invited guests and members of the staff:

1.      Background to Conference activities over the past year

In a matter of weeks, the Church will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which had opened on 11 October 1962 with Pope John XXIII and ended 8 December 1965 under Pope Paul VI. Reflecting on the past 40 years, one sees at least one marked difference. Media today rarely talk of the “just society” or “renewing society”, or the “Great Society” as they did so often in the 1960s and 1970s. Headlines and book titles in our day tend to focus on “the clash of civilizations” and “threats to civilization”. The stakes have become more far-reaching and more profound than any society. What is now of particular concern, and necessarily to the Church, are the values and principles that animate and inspire civilizations and which shape and determine the vocabulary and the dominant images of the day.

At the beginning of his pontificate, in his first general audience on 27 April, Pope Benedict XVI explained that he had chosen his name “in order to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who had steered the Church through the period of turmoil caused by the First World War,” and also to call to mind the “Patriarch of Western Monasticism”, Saint Benedict, who is “a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization”.

In a recent address, on 8 September, to the Bishops of Mexico on their ad limina visit, the Pope said the Church today finds itself “in a new culture”. The implications, he stated, are that the Church’s pastoral activity must echo the profound desire for the recognition of human rights and cultural values. To do this, he noted, pastoral activity needs to involve “integral formation in all areas of the Church”.

While I do not want to be numbered among those who proclaim “the end of civilization”, it seems to me that the debate on the basic values of civilization provides a useful perspective from which to look at the past year and at our Conference’s continuing review of its activities and services. This already began at the last Plenary with our examining how we can be better stewards of our finances and resources, including our Conference offices.

The question this year is even more basic: What shape do we wish to give to the episcopal structures of our Conference, in order that we, the Bishops of Canada, can be more effective in responding to urgent pastoral questions?

Two examples of these urgent pastoral questions are the redefinition of marriage, and the ongoing exploitation and “commodification” of humanity – in global trade, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the appeal to profits to justify technological deployment, no matter the human or ecological costs. In the words of the recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 334), echoing the encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis of Pope John Paul II, “This is the so-called civilization of ‘consumption’ or ‘consumerism’.” 

When Bill C-38 was passed this June by the House of Commons, I said in my statement that: 

… at risk is the future of marriage as a fundamental social institution, together with the importance that society accords the irreplaceable role of a husband and wife in conceiving and raising children…

 … Canadians are witnessing a dangerous deterioration of their communal values. This worrisome decline in shared concern and care for the common good is also evident in the continuing high rates of marriage breakdown, the annual number of abortions, and the declining number of births.

Our Plenary will have an opportunity to begin addressing the ramifications of the new legislation that obscures and weakens the committed relationship of a man and a woman in marriage, which has proven to be the most basic element in the construction of society and for the survival of civilization. Moreover, the Executive Committee is inviting the regional episcopal assemblies and the metropolitan archbishops to ensure their respective provincial and territorial laws for the solemnization of marriage, as well as in the areas of education and human rights, provide adequate protection for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

In addressing the dangers of human exploitation and commodification, our Conference continues to be greatly assisted by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) and by the Commission for Social Affairs, including the latter’s new secretariat (shared with the Commission for Evangelization and the Council for Reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples), namely, the Office for Justice, Peace and Missions. With the help of both, the CCCB has been, and will be, involved this year on questions that include embryonic stem-cell research, human reproductive technologies, just trade, globalization, world poverty and access to water.

Last Updated on Thursday, August 03 2006  
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