The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is the national assembly of the Bishops of Canada. Founded in 1943, and officially recognized by the Holy See in 1948, it became part of the growing number of Bishops’ Conferences around the world in the years following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (a meeting of all Catholic Bishops from the entire world) which took place from 1962 to 1965. More precisely, it was in 1965, through the seminal Decree of Vatican II concerning the pastoral office of all Catholic Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, that His Holiness, Pope Saint Paul VI, took steps to formalize the unique and permanent role of Bishops’ Conferences in the life of the Latin Church (more commonly referred to as the Roman Catholic Church). Further clarification regarding the ecclesial mandate and internal functioning of Bishops’ Conferences would be elaborated in succeeding years, with juridical parameters ultimately established by the new Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983 by Pope Saint John Paul II (see cc. 447-459). Further indications on the theological and juridical nature of Episcopal Conferences were provided in Apostolos Suos, the Apostolic Letter of Pope Saint John Paul II issued motu proprio in 1988, as well as in Apostolorum Successores, the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops issued in 2004 by the Congregation for Bishops.
In keeping with the tradition spanning two millennia of synods and councils of the Church in which Bishops have shared their pastoral responsibility for Christ’s faithful (cf. Christus Dominus, n. 36), a Conference of Bishops, or Episcopal Conference as it is also called, is a permanent assembly of the Bishops of the particular Churches or dioceses in a given territory, usually a nation (though sometimes the territory is of greater or lesser scope). Each conference has it own statutes, which the Holy See must approve, and functions as a juridical personality through the same lawfully established statutes. The central purpose of an Episcopal Conference is to facilitate joint pastoral action on the part of the Bishops across the same territory, including some of the following, by way of example:
- the regulation of certain pastoral matters;
- the transmission of the Church’s teachings adapted to the situation of the Catholics living in the territory in which the Conference is located;
- the coordination of apostolic and charitable initiatives across many dioceses.
(See: The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, Apostolorum Successores, n. 28.)
Except in those matters prescribed by canon law or by special mandate of the Holy See, decisions of the Conference of Bishops must ordinarily be adopted by each Bishop and, if so warranted, can be given legal force by him as diocesan legislation, “in deference to the unity with and charity towards his brothers in the episcopate, unless there are grave reasons that prevent their application in the diocese.” (Code of Canon Law, [Montreal: Wilson & Lafleur Ltée, 1993], commentary on p. 344).
In accordance with the Code of Canon Law (c. 450), the following persons in Canada belong to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: all diocesan Bishops and those equivalent to them in law, all coadjutor Bishops, auxiliary Bishops and other titular Bishops who exercise in Canada a special office assigned to them by the Holy See or by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). Likewise, as per the statutes of the CCCB, eparchial Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches with jurisdiction in Canada are members of the CCCB (§ I, art. 3.2).
The highest level of authority within an Episcopal Conference is the Plenary Assembly. The Plenary Assembly exercises this authority in a manner which complements both the teaching office of Bishops and the principle of communion in the Church. In the words of Apostolos Suos, “[t]he very nature of the teaching office of Bishops requires that, when they exercise it jointly through the Episcopal Conference, this be done in the plenary assembly” (n. 23). The Plenary Assembly is, therefore, the ultimate decisional body in the Conference of Bishops: “No other structure within the Conference may take to itself the competence of the Plenary Assembly” (Apostolorum Successores, n. 31; cf. Apostolos Suos, n. 22).
Meetings of the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) are held at least once annually. Its resolutions are passed when two thirds of the membership vote in favour of a motion. Depending on a resolution’s specific nature, but especially in doctrinal, liturgical, and canonical matters, the Conference may require the Holy See’s recognition before proceeding with its promulgation.
Between Plenary Assemblies, the general work, policy questions and other decisional matters of the CCCB are carried out by the Permanent Council. The CCCB’s Permanent Council is a body of at least 12 Bishops who are elected by and report to the Plenary Assembly.
The Permanent Council of the CCCB is assisted by the Executive Committee, which according to the CCCB’s statutes, has principal responsibility for promoting and coordinating the initiatives of the CCCB, for ensuring the execution of the resolutions of the Plenary Assembly and the Permanent Council, for overseeing financial matters of the CCCB, and responding to issues as they arise. The members of the Executive Committee, who are elected by and ultimately report to the Plenary Assembly, are the President, Vice President, and two Co-Treasurers.
CCCB Statutes require that there be equal representation from French and English-speaking Canada among the members of both the Permanent Council and Executive Committee.
To assist them in their pastoral work, the Bishops established within the CCCB a permanent, bilingual General Secretariat located in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.
The General Secretariat maintains contacts with the Holy See, Episcopal Conferences around the world and other Christian churches in Canada, as well as with national Catholic organizations and the national leadership of other faith traditions also in Canada, together with authorities in the Federal Government. It likewise collaborates with the four regional episcopal assemblies in Canada (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, West).
Made up of various Offices and Services, the General Secretariat assists the Executive Committee, Permanent Council, and ultimately the Plenary Assembly in fulfilling the CCCB’s mandate, including the execution of short and long-term goals.
The activities of the Secretariat, including those of CCCB Offices and Services, are overseen by a General Secretary, who in Canada has traditionally been a priest. The General Secretary exercises his role in accordance with the deliberations and decisions of the Conference’s decisional bodies. He holds his authority directly from the Plenary Assembly, to which he is accountable. In exercising his functions, the General Secretary reports to the President of the Conference.