Report of the President: 2004 Plenary Assembly

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My fellow bishops, collaborators and invited guests:

1. Key activities of the Conference over the past year

As I begin this report on the key activities of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), you might well think this past year has been more controversial than usual. In part, this simply reflects the sights and sounds of the strongly contested federal election campaigns on both sides of the 49th parallel. Yet the past months have also been major moments in other controversies involving fundamental ethical and human concerns. These debates are about the basic values and principles which shape the lives of individual persons, the welfare of our communities, and the future of society.

Two of these major debates have involved our Conference not only over the past months, but for a number of years, and will almost certainly continue to be part of our future reflections; in both instances, we have worked in collaboration with the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. The first, an Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction and Related Research, received royal assent on 29 March 2004. Since 1991, the CCCB has intervened more than a dozen times on various proposals leading to this legislation, with most of these major interventions over the past four years. The issue is whether all human life has an integral dignity, with each human life deserving protection and respect. Second, the definition of marriage, in which both our Conference and the Ontario episcopal assembly intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada, 6-7 October 2004. This issue concerns the recognition of the unique life-generating partnership of a man and a woman, which has been protected since time immemorial as basic to the stability of society and family life. Since 2003, our Conference has been involved in 11 major interventions on the definition of marriage.

The third major debate we witnessed over the past year was in the weeks leading to the Canadian federal election. As you will recall, following various considerations by the Executive and Permanent Council, the Social Affairs Commission this spring issued these reflections as Election 2004: Responsibility and Discernment. The debate took up some of the issues involved with marriage and assisted human reproduction, as well as recalling a wide range of other social and political issues that have also engendered controversy over the years. At the same time, the election reflections in their own way were also part of another debate: How can elected Catholic officials, and Catholics in general, be coherent in their civic and political responsibilities with the demands and values of their faith?

These debates are vital for our Church and our society. They show how secularization continues to open as well as to close doors to discussions on values and principles. They signal that the Christian community is deeply committed to, and concerned about, its mission to be a witness to the world. Finally, despite the current trend that sees human rights simply as various entitlements for individuals, these debates indicate how the dignity of the individual person is inseparable from the welfare of the community and the common good.

2. Activities of President and Executive

Among the activities over the past year that more directly involved the President and the Executive, I followed the example of my predecessors and in January participated in the meeting of the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences with the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. This in turn was followed by an ecumenical observer mission in March to the Middle East, organized by KAIROS, the coalition for Canadian ecumenical justice initiatives. As agreed by the Executive, Bishop Martin Currie represented our Conference, with the assistance of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Also in January, our Executive met, as customary, with our counterparts from the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC). This assisted the Executive in preparing a Pentecost pastoral letter on the consecrated life, to mark the 50th anniversary of the CRC.

In February, the Executive participated in the 32nd Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, in San Antonio, Texas, which resulted in a statement on the family in the light of Ecclesia in America. For this undertaking, we were again assisted by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, with its new Co-Director, Mme Michèle Boulva.

More recently, at the end of August and in early September, with the hospitable welcome of Archbishop James Weisgerber, the Executive Committee met in Winnipeg. Immediately after the meeting was our annual exchange with the members of the Executive of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This was followed a few weeks later by the General Secretary and myself traveling to New Haven, Connecticut, to meet with the Supreme Knight and the Deputy Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and then going on to New York City, where Msgr. Mario Paquette, P.H., and I met with Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.

An issue which our Executive discussed on several occasions this year was the work of Catholic chaplains in Canadian correctional institutions. With the approval of the Permanent Council, the Executive Committee appointed Archbishop Raymond Roussin, S.M., as the first bishop ponens for the CCCB regional representatives on the Committee for Interfaith Chaplaincy of the Correctional Service of Canada. As these five representatives are appointed by our Conference following the recommendations of the regional episcopal assemblies, we are confident that Archbishop Roussin will be able to assist all of us in understanding better the opportunities and challenges of prison ministry, including the upcoming review of the Memorandum of Understanding.

With respect to another issue involving society and justice, the Executive invited Archbishop Roger Ébacher, a member of the Social Affairs Commission, to represent our Conference at the recent Second World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Montreal, while the Holy See was represented by Msgr. Alan McCormack, formerly on staff with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now Judicial Vicar for the Canadian Appeal Tribunal.

Over the past year, as President of the Conference, I also agreed to participate in a number of ecumenical initiatives with other Canadian Church leaders, including the following: on 8 December 2003, a joint statement of concern about anti-Semitism in Canada; on 30 January 2004, a joint letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin on the future of health care in Canada; on 15 March 2004, a joint letter to Prime Minister Martin, questioning the weaponization of space; and on 13 August 2004, a joint letter to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration calling for changes in the Canadian system for determining refugees.

3. Major developments involving the Holy See

Later during this Assembly, we should expect an announcement on the Canadian Ordinances for the application of the Apostolic Letter Ex Corde Ecclesiae, regarding the identity and mission of Catholic colleges and universities. For the constructive discussions on this with the Holy See over the past years, our Conference owes a great deal to Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. Also in terms of past business coming to completion, I am happy to inform you that the CCCB Publications Service is publishing the French and English texts of the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, released by the Holy See in April of this year, in follow-up to the 2001 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. This new resource will be indispensable for the current and future members of our Conference, as well as an important reference for all those involved in the pastoral life of the Church.

As will be noted later by this Assembly, preparations are under way for the next Synod of Bishops, in October 2005, which meant changing the date of our next Plenary Assembly to 19-23 September 2005. The theme of the next Synod, The Eucharist as Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, has bearing on a number of related developments, some of which will be discussed later during this meeting. These include the official translations for use in Canada of the Institutio generalis of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, and the adaptations it requires or permits, as well as the implementation of Liturgiam Authenticam, the fifth instruction on the renewal of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.

In addition, as will be noted in the reports at the French Sector meeting, are the new Statutes of the international French-language mixed commission for liturgy, now known as the Commission épiscopale francophone pour les traductions liturgiques (CEFTL). The Sector is in the process of evaluating an interim approved version. With respect to the English Sector, a possible ratio translationis for English-language liturgical translations is being developed; the Holy See involved our Conference in a consultation on a draft earlier this year, and has also appointed Archbishop Prendergast to Vox Clara, the Vatican committee working on this.

Another topic, with both liturgical and canonical implications and which will be taken up again this Plenary, is the implementation of the motu proprio Misericordia Dei. You will be asked to discuss the proposed principles of the Canadian norms for general absolution.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples has been involved in a flurry of activities this past year, including the revision of the Statutes for the Pontifical Mission Societies. Following consultations with the Commission for Evangelization as well as with the French and English sectors of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Canada, the Executive invited Bishop Clément Fecteau to represent the Conference in the meetings in Rome on the proposed revisions.

The Congregation for Evangelization is also in the process of a consultation on several other texts that are of primary interest to the seven dioceses of the North, regarding the formation of pastoral workers and collaboration with institutes of consecrated life. I draw this to the attention of all of you, however, as our Conference continues to look for ways to encourage the dioceses of Southern Canada to work in close collaboration with the North.

As a final note with respect to the initiatives of the Holy See, plans are well under way for the August 2005 World Youth Day to be held in Cologne, Germany. From all accounts, there will be strong Canadian representation from a number of our dioceses. This shows continuing interest and strong pastoral follow-up in our country to World Youth Day 2002 and to the 2002 North American Congress for Vocations to the Ordained Ministry and the Consecrated Life.

4. Points to be discussed by the 2004 Plenary

Further to the work of this Plenary, you will note there will be a progress report on the work of the Special Taskforce for the review of From Pain to Hope. In addition to underlining the importance of this issue for the pastoral work and Christian witness of all our dioceses, I wish to thank the members and secretary of the Taskforce for their generous and dedicated contributions, under the co-chairmanship of Archbishop Weisgerber and Bishop Eugène Tremblay. In addition to the time already allotted later this afternoon for questions and discussion on this progress report, should the members of the Conference want additional time for further discussion, an opportunity can be arranged during our working session tomorrow evening.

“Pains and hopes” might be a useful subtitle to another part of the business of this Plenary, namely the financial situation of our Conference and the impact this could have on its structures. As you have no doubt already noted, there will be several Plenary and Sector discussions over the coming days on the budget for next year. These conversations will be confidential, in order to allow the members to speak freely and so as to respect the rights of our personnel and their employee association. As to the preliminary financial discussions to date, I wish to acknowledge the contributions of the other members of the Executive and Permanent Council, as well as the extra burden this has meant for our Co-Treasurers, Archbishop Weisgerber and Bishop Pierre Morissette. These reflections have been well focused by our having an Advisory Committee on Financial Issues, which includes former CCCB Presidents Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte and Archbishop Marcel Gervais.

In addition to finances, this Plenary will be invited to take up another discussion that also dates back to the beginnings of this Conference and which has also been renewed intermittently since then. This regards the structures of the Conference and how they can best be adjusted to meet current economic, linguistic and regional realities.

Regarding the proposal that our Conference review its structures, it is informative to note that the Canadian Religious Conference has recently undergone a major restructuring; that the Catholic Health Association of Canada has changed the complete structure of its governing board; and that the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, in consultation with our Conference, revised its General By-Laws this past year.

5. Changes among CCCB staff

Since our last meeting of the Plenary, there have been several changes among the directors and managers of our staff. In the spring of this year, we all sadly learned of the accidental death of Mr. Jean Roy, Chief of Administration Services. Since then, we have been fortunate in having the administrative skills of Mr. Benoît Bariteau who has courageously filled in as Interim Chief of Administration, while continuing his duties as French-language Associate General Secretary. In this respect, we hope to be able to announce shortly the appointment of a new Director of Administration.

Also over this past year, Msgr. Alan McCormack, P.H., replaced Father Pierre Allard, S.M., who had resigned as Judicial Vicar of the Canadian Appeal Tribunal for reasons of health. Dr. Vicki Bennett replaced Ms. Johanne Gnassi as Director of the Publications Service, who had moved with her husband to New Brunswick. Ms. Adèle Bolduc resigned as Director of the Office for the Evangelization of Peoples, in order to work with the Diocese of Prince George; for the time being, no undertaking has been made to replace her, in light of the current financial situation and the initial discussions on Conference structures.

In the context of financial questions and uncertainties, I especially want to express appreciation and gratitude to the General Secretary and all our CCCB staff for their on-going collaboration and for their patience as the Conference continues to clarify its funding capacity.

With respect to the Ottawa offices of our Conference, I also wish to inform you that the Executive has agreed to defer, at least for another year or so, any possible plans to construct a publications warehouse in conjunction with our new facilities at 2500 Don Reid Drive. Although this project would be financially advantageous over the long term, the Executive felt it was best not to proceed for now, given all the uncertainties at the present moment.


Over the past year, the Vice President of our Conference, Archbishop André Gaumond, and I have had the pleasure and honour of being present at the episcopal ordinations and installations of a number of our members. These celebrations are important reminders of the centrality of the episcopal ministry in the life of the local Church and of the essentially collegial nature of the episcopal office. Together with Bishop Martin Veillette, I will also assist at the information session after this Plenary for bishops appointed over the past five years. In addition, I had the honour as President to be invited by the Holy See to assist in a session during September in Rome for new bishops from English-speaking countries.

The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops notes that the bishop is the “visible principle of unity and communion in the Church” (no. 8), and that his “responsibility for divine worship [is] to be his pre-eminent role” (no. 142). Given this, it seems to me that the 7 October 2004 Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine has a message of particular importance for bishops, especially for us in Canada as we prepare to celebrate the 2008 International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.

In proclaiming October 2004 to October 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II reminds the Church that the Eucharist is a mystery of faith and “a mystery of light”; that Christians are to respond in celebration, worship and contemplation; that the Eucharist manifests the central reality of the Church as communion; and that the Eucharist summons all Christians to mission: giving thanks to God, being a sign and instrument of human solidarity, and assisting others through service. Worship and contemplation, the Church as communion, the summons to mission: this is a succinct summary of our threefold responsibilities or munera as bishops: to sanctify, to teach, to lead.

The meetings of our Plenary Assembly are to help us in this threefold role and responsibility. In collaboration and communion with all our brothers and sisters in each of our churches, with their own charisms and gifts, responsibilities and ministries, let us pray, in the words of Mane Nobiscum Domine, that hope be rekindled in our world and hearts led “to yearn for the fullness of light” (no. 1).

Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
October 2004

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