Summit of the Americas: That None Be Excluded

Wednesday, April 04 2001

Statement of the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the occasion of the Summit of the Americas, Quebec City, April 2001


1. Together with the other citizens of our country which is hosting the Summit of the Americas, we as representatives of the Catholic Bishops of Canada welcome the heads of state and government leaders who are meeting in the historic city of Quebec, the seat of the first diocese to be established north of Mexico. We likewise greet the thousands of other persons from all over the world who also come to contribute in their own ways to continental relations that respect human dignity, social justice and an equitable sharing of goods.

2. As the heads of state and other government leaders of the Americas prepare to take another step toward extending economic integration and free trade to the entire continent, the Permanent Council of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wishes to recall that the Church, in its concern for the welfare of each person, is especially preoccupied with defending the poor. Accordingly, we call to mind that the original plan for the Summit of the Americas, launched in Miami in 1994, had the following objectives: the protection and strengthening of democracy, the promotion of sustainable development, the protection of the environment, and the eradication of poverty and discrimination.

3. Because we believe that the positions of the official Summit will be significant factors in shaping the common good of the peoples of the Americas, we attach great importance to the popular action aimed at influencing these positions ­ the parallel Summit organized by the Hemispheric Social Alliance(1) and other peaceful means by which public opinion is expressed in democratic countries. We want the voice of the people to be heard without violence, no matter who may be responsible, and without disruption to the legitimate expression of opinion. Undoubtedly, certain precautions must be taken to protect people and property, and to assure the safety of the political leaders and the effectiveness of their deliberations. However, the success of the Summit will be enhanced, on every count, if it takes place with greater transparency than has characterized its earlier stages. The citizens of the continent need to be able to contribute more to these crucial debates which determine our common future.

4. From this perspective, we wish to reflect on how economic integration affects individuals and groups in society, and to share some considerations on the values that should characterize democratic life on the American continent. We draw our inspiration especially from the Apostolic Exhortation that Pope John Paul II made public in Mexico in January 1999. This text, Ecclesia in America, substantially reiterates the propositions voted on by 250 bishops who had been chosen by their episcopal colleagues in the Americas as delegates to the 1997 Synod in Rome. A few quotations give a sense of its social thrust:

    • The globalized economy must be analyzed in the light of the principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor who must be allowed to take their place in such an economy, and the requirements of the international common good.”(2)


    • “The Church in America is called to cooperate with every legitimate means in reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favor of a misconstrued homogenization.”(3)


  • This is why the Church “must encouragethe international agencies of the continent to establish an economic order dominated not only by the profit motive but also by the pursuit of the common good of nations and of the international community, the equitable distribution of goods and the integral development of peoples.”(4)

Globalization, Economic Integration and the Common Good

5. In the same vein, a recent message addressed to the members of the Canadian Parliament by the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops defines the common good as follows: “Inclusion of all persons in the life of society, access to the benefits of creation and ability to participate in the effort to improve the world are what the common good should be all about.”(5)

6. Economic integration does not in itself advance the common good. Though it provides varying degrees of advantages to our respective societies, it also has negative effects. Even a voice as official as that of the Organization of American States recognizes that “income disparities and the absolute numbers of those living in poverty in the Americas have increased,” “citizens feel increasingly insecure in city streets and even in their homes,” and “persistent and in some cases growing inequality threatens to undermine our ability to construct a more prosperous and secure future.”(6)

Neoliberalism, free trade and exclusion

7. The Quebec meeting takes place within an historical framework of globalization ­ “a process made inevitable by increasing communication between the different parts of the world, leading in practice to overcoming distances, with evident effects in widely different fields.”(7) In this sense, globalization has been part of modern society since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. But it is also specifically identified with the contemporary economic system known as “neoliberalism”. Pope John Paul II defines its ideological orientation as follows: “(B)ased on a purely economic conception of the human person, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust.”(8)

8. Efforts are now underway to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But while the latter has tended to generate economic growth, it has not succeeded in sharing that growth. Many now seriously doubt whether the supposed benefits that the poor were automatically to glean from NAFTA were anything more than an illusion generated by the underlying neoliberal ideology. Before going any further down this road, we should ask who exactly has profited from North American integration. Many would agree with what Canadian bishops have said about the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI): “The answer seems to be that huge multinational corporations headquartered in the North, which have no allegiance to any state and who have lobbied hard for unfettered markets, [are] favoured. From listening to the people we minister to, and according to the principle of the common good, this is not what human beings, or indeed the environment, most need.”(9)

9. Summing up the reflections of bishops from all the Americas, Ecclesia in America is adamant about these negative consequences:

if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between rich and poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority.(10)

Democracy and participation by citizens

10. While excluded from the process leading up to the Summit agreement, numerous local groups which are part of continental networks are closely watching the negotiations. In their attempts to alert governments and arouse public opinion, they have proposed various alternatives that merit consideration. With theSecond Peoples’ Summit for the Americas, the City of Quebec welcomes those many who want to be heard, even if only in the streets.

11. An observation made by the delegation of the Holy See at the Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization held in Seattle remains pertinent to the present situation: “it will be important to build a more systematic and constructive dialogue with representative civil society groups and to devise mechanisms for permanent accreditation and regular consultation.”(11)

Economic integration, delegated power and increasing disparities

12. The goal of the Church is to ensure that no one be excluded.”(12) It is evident that the production of greater wealth does not in itself lead to more equitable distribution of that wealth, and that “the ‘new economy’ is promoting greater inequality faster than ever before.”(13) But there is also a paradox at work here. Governments, entrusted by their citizens with responsibility for the common good, appear to be using multilateral negotiations in order to relinquish their own powers to intervene. They thus render themselves impotent in the face of economic forces that are able to increase production and profits but unable to guarantee the distribution of any resulting benefits. This is why, before abandoning the regulatory powers they enjoy on behalf of their people and which are required for the common good, and before signing a document that is so important but so little known, ­even among those who will be called on to ratify it,­ government leaders and Parliaments should carefully consider what a wider open market will mean in its consequences for the poor, women, indebted nations and the victims of human rights violations.

Increasing poverty and the condition of women

13. Experience shows that poverty has a devastating impact on women who are too often abandoned to their own resources. As generally recognized, women take on the majority of responsibilities for those close to them, for children, the aged and the sick. At the same time there is “an urgent need to achieve real equality” for women in every area of life,(14) this is all the more hindered when budgets for social programs are reduced and health and jobs put at risk. For these reasons, the Bishops of Canada encourage efforts to focus on poverty and violence affecting the lives of women and children, while also challenging government to make these its top priorities.(15)

Profits and the environment

14. What is to be said about ecological destruction? The unbridled search for quick industrial gain is devastating natural resources which should be for the common good of all humanity. The many recent examples of environmental devastation make it impossible for government leaders to ignore their responsibility in safeguarding our common heritage. Corporations cannot be allowed to make the financial bottom line their excuse for overlooking the negative deficits they are creating with respect to land, water, subsoil, air and other resources that are essential to all humanity and for each person and community. To the participants of the Summit of the Americas we address the same challenge as conveyed in the recent message on the common good to the members of the Parliament of Canada: “Since current production and consumption are so highly concentrated among the wealthy, the present model of development not only excludes the majority of this and future generations, but is exploitative and destructive of many forms of life on earth . The principle of the common good must today be enlarged not only to accept the stewardship of the earth, but to include all forms of creation.”(16)

Free trade and the indebtedness of poor countries

15. As for the poorer countries, they have yet to benefit substantially from the reduction or cancellation of their foreign debts, despite repeated demands, including guarantees the money saved be used for purposes such as education and health.(17) How can there be a free market among the countries of America when so many poor nations remain enslaved by foreign debt? It is difficult to see how the countries of the Western hemisphere can be harmoniously integrated, economically or in other ways ­ when most are destabilized by debts so heavy their budgets are crippled, they remain on unequal footing with the richer countries and enjoy little real freedom about whether or not to participate in integration.

16. It is with a view to greater justice among peoples that we, as Catholic Bishops of Canada, have spoken in favour of the petitions of the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative to cancel the international debts of the countries of the South.(18) We believe that efforts toward continental economic integration would enjoy popular support if the agreements included serious guarantees for economic equity, environmental protection and greater participation by women in the conduct of the economy and society in general.

Continental integration and human rights

17. Continental integration needs to emphasize the protection of individual and collective rights, including cultural, economic and social rights. The establishment of formal democratic structures in the Americas has not meant an end to human rights violations which remain frequent and often linked to conditions imposed by the market. As Pope John Paul II has insisted in this regard, “Much still remains to be done.”(19) States need to be able to promote a climate of freedom that allows persons and groups the full exercise of their rights to association, demonstration and expression. The Pope specifically urges support for “the process of democratization presently taking place in America, since a democratic system provides greater control over potential abuses.”(20)


18. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 recalled the biblical year of jubilee: the liberation of slaves (“you shall set that person free”);(21) the sharing of wealth (“there is to be no poor among you”);(22) and rest for the land (“you shall eat only what the field itself produces”).(23) These injunctions urge the re-establishment of an order of justice and equity marked by freedom, sharing of wealth and respect for the planet. They also encourage us to denounce the “social sins which cry to heaven because they generate violence, disrupt peace and harmony between communities within single nations, between nations and between the different regions of the continent.”(24) International rules are needed, in other words, so that democratically elected governments and civil societies have the powers to promote and protect the common good.

19. Too many children, women and men live in conditions unworthy of their dignity as human beings, as daughters and sons of God. It is up to all of us to promote development. But it must be an integral human development which “presumes ­in fact, demands ­ that persons and communities … assume their responsibilities and … develop and pursue initiatives [to] meet their social, economic, cultural and environmental needs.”(25)

May the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City assist in building a better world with all our sisters and brothers of the Americas.

Permanent Council
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Members of the Permanent Council
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Most Rev. Gerald Wiesner, OMI, Bishop of Prince George, President
Most Rev. Jacques Berthelet, CSV, Bishop of St-Jean-Longueuil, Vice President
Most Rev. Brendan O’Brien, Archbishop of St. John’s, Co-Treasurer
Most Rev. André Gaumond, Archbishop of Sherbrooke, Co-Treasurer
His Em. Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto
Most Rev. Michael Bzdel, CSsR, Ukrainian Archbishop of Winnipeg and Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in Canada
Most Rev. Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Edmonton
Most Rev. Maurice Couture, SV, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada
Most Rev. Roger Ébacher, Archbishop of Gatineau-Hull
Most Rev. Clément Fecteau, Bishop of Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatière
Most Rev. Ernest Léger, Archbishop of Moncton
Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, SJ, Archbishop of Halifax
His Em. Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal
Most Rev. André Vallée, PMÉ, Bishop of Hearst
Most Rev. James Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg

1. The Hemispheric Social Alliance, founded in Brazil in 1997, has succeeded in drawing together representatives of organizations from civil society in almost every country of the Americas.
2. Ecclesia in America, no. 55.
3. Ibid.
4. Ecclesia in America, no. 52.
5. “The Common Good or Exclusion: A Choice for Canadians”, open letter to the Members of Parliament by the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2 February 2001, no. 11.
6. Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, Special Committee on Interamerican Summits Management, “2001 Summit of the Americas: Themes”; discussion paper submitted by the Chair, OEA/Ser.G CE/GCI-170/00, 18 August 2000, pp. 3,1.
7. Ecclesia in America, no. 20.
8. Ecclesia in America, no. 56.
9. Brief presented to the MAI Inquiry by the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 13 November 1998, at
10. Ecclesia in America, no. 20.
11. Intervention by the Holy See, Third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, Seattle, 30 November-3 December 1999, l’Osservatore Romano, English weekly edition, 15 December 1999, p. 11.
12. Ecclesia in America, no. 58.
13. “The Common Good or Exclusion”, no. 14.
14. Pope John Paul II, Letter to Women, 1995, no. 4.
15. See for example, “The Common Good or Exclusion”, no. 18.
16. “The Common Good or Exclusion”, no. 12.
17. Pope John Paul II notes in his Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, 2001, no. 14: “The question of multilateral debt … has shown itself to be a rather more problematic issue … on [it] depends the progress of many countries, with grave consequences for the economy and the living conditions of so many people.”
18. See “The Common Good or Exclusion”, no. 18.
19. Ecclesia in America, no. 57.
20. Ecclesia in America, no. 56.
21. Deuteronomy 15.12.
22. Deuteronomy 15.4.
23. Leviticus 25.12.
24. Ecclesia in America, no. 56.
25. Letter by Bishop François Thibodeau, CJM, Chairman of the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, to Hon. Sergio Marchi, Minister of International Trade, 26 March 1998, at