President’s Report to the 1998 Plenary Meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Wednesday, October 14 1998

Dear brothers in the episcopate, and dear friends:

1.  Introduction

The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, and particularly Most Reverend John O’Mara, Bishop of St. Catharines, are our hosts for this Plenary Meeting. The Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre and St. Catharines Diocese have done everything possible to help us meet here. The Ontario Knights of Columbus too are generously providing assistance, as have their colleagues in the other pastoral regions at previous Plenaries, including transportation and helping organize Sunday’s recreational day. To all, our profound gratitude.

The first year of my mandate as President of the CCCB has now drawn to a close, filled with many different kinds of activities. I must admit it has all been satisfying to me in more ways than one. Most of all, it has reminded me again of the vitality of our Episcopal Conference and the enthusiasm of its members. Allow me to recall some of the highlights.

2. Activities of the President

On November 7, just a few days before the Synod of Bishops for America, at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and in company with representatives of a number of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and other Episcopal Conferences, I participated in a meeting on the occasion of the release of the Instruction on Certain Questions regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.

Following this, together with the Vice President, Bishop Gerald Wiesner, OMI, and General Secretary Reverend Émilius Goulet, PSS, was the annual visit to the dicasteries of the Holy See, to help answer and clarify various questions involving the activities of our Episcopal Conference. A detailed written report was sent to you at the beginning of this year.

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America was held November 17 to December 12. The Church in Canada was well represented, with 15 Canadians as Synod members and eight others as auditors or experts. A moment of grace for all involved, it certainly warrants our reflecting on it further during our pastoral day of reflection.

At the end of January, with General Secretary Father Goulet, I had the opportunity of living an exceptional historic moment: the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba, the highlights of which you were able to follow on television. I am convinced it will be remembered in history for opening new horizons not only for the Catholic Church in Cuba but for all Cubans.

After arrangements had been made with the National Museum of Science and Technology and the Canadian government, we were able to make one of the Canadian popemobiles available for those organizing the Cuban visit. I also cannot let pass without mention the warm and friendly welcome from the Canadian ambassador to Cuba, His Excellency Mr. Keith Christie, and his wife, who generously provided hospitality during our stay in Cuba.

The Catholic Church in Cuba is exuberantly alive at the moment, after decades of being kept in the shadows by the communist regime there. I believe it imperative for us to offer support and encouragement so the Church in Cuba can once more be a beacon of light in the lives of the Cuban people. This is why the next inter-American meeting of bishops will be held in Havana this coming February, marking the first anniversary of the visit of the Holy Father. Our two General Secretaries were in Havana during August to help prepare this upcoming meeting, together with the General Secretaries of the American and Cuban Episcopal Conferences as well as CELAM.

The Church in Cuba may well be calling on our generosity over the next few months for help in constructing a seminary. The Holy Father blessed its corner stone during the course of his visit there. Perhaps as a sign of ecclesial solidarity, we might consider establishing a special fund to which the diocesan Churches of Canada could contribute? This is a suggestion for you to consider, and I will be volunteering to help get such a fund under way. The question will certainly be coming up over this next year.

Following the visit to Cuba, I returned to Rome in February to take part in the second meeting of the Post-Synodal Council; the first meeting had taken place immediately after the conclusion of the Synod for America. Along with Cardinal Jan P. Schotte, General Secretary of the Synod for Bishops, the 14 members of the Post-Synodal Council discussed the significance of the Synod for the whole American continent and studied the propositions that had been submitted at its conclusion.

A few months later, June 2 to 4, I attended the third post-synodal meeting. This established the working outline for the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation that the Holy Father will release on January 25, 1999, at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.

On February 21, a few days after the second post-synodal meeting, I had the pleasure of participating in the consistory at which the Holy Father created 20 new cardinals, including our colleague, Most Reverend Aloysius Ambrozic, Archbishop of Toronto. During a wine and
cheese reception at the CCCB offices on April 1, attended by the members of the Permanent Council and Conference staff, I had the opportunity as President of congratulating Cardinal Ambrozic on his elevation to the College of Cardinals. Today, I would like to reiterate my warmest congratulations to him.

Cardinal Ambrozic is now also a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Because of these new responsibilities, he unfortunately cannot be with us for our Plenary.

A few months ago, at the beginning of August, I attended the annual convention of the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus in Cincinnati. In my address on that occasion, I highlighted the remarkable work accomplished by the Knights since their beginnings in 1881, and particularly their contributions to the life of the Church in Canada. Year after year, they have been unfailingly generous toward our Episcopal Conference. In 1997, the Knights provided more than $400,000 for various CCCB projects.

As in past years, we had our annual joint meeting with the Executive Committee of the American Episcopal Conference. Held on September 29 in St. Paul, Minnesota, it provided an opportunity to share and exchange information on the activities of our two Conferences.

3. CCCB representation

Other members as well as CCCB staff have represented our Conference over the past year and assisted in various developments and events both in our own country as well as abroad.

In February, Bishop Raymond Saint-Gelais, who had just completed his term as Chair of the National Committee for Preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, went to Rome to participate in a meeting of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee, along with representatives of some 115 national committees.

On February 5 to 8, Bishop Raymond Lahey participated in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on the theme of the Council’s activities from 1995 to 1997 and their significance for the Great Jubilee.

Ms. Jennifer Leddy, Co-Director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family and a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita, attended the Academy’s Fourth General Assembly, February 18 to 25.

At the end of February, Mr. Gérald Baril, Assistant General Secretary, and Mr. Joe Gunn, Co- Director of the Social Affairs Office, appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs  and  International  Trade, along with representatives  of  the  Canadian  Council  of
Churches. The delegation called on the Canadian government to lead political leaders from around the world in signing a treaty for eliminating nuclear weapons, as had also been the case with the question of anti-personnel mines. The proposal was enthusiastically received by the Standing Committee.

In February also, 24 English Sector dioceses, as well as religious communities, the Pontifical Mission Societies and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, met to discuss the meaning of and preparations for the Great Jubilee in Canada.

Early in March, Ms. Leddy was invited by the Holy See to participate in the 42nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. This was by way of follow-up to the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing.

As well in March, at the invitation of the Colombian Episcopal Conference and under the sponsorship of Caritas internationalis, Bishop Raymond Dumais visited Colombia, together with about a dozen other Catholic delegates, including Archbishop Josef Cordes, President of Cor Unum. The delegation visited areas especially affected by conflict where human rights have been outrageously violated.

In April, Mr. Joe Gunn, in his capacity as Chair of the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA), travelled to Santiago, Chili, for a meeting on various social questions including poverty, indigenous peoples and the environment.

Most Reverend François Lapierre, PMÉ, who several weeks earlier had been named Bishop of St-Hyacinthe, represented the CCCB at the April 29 funeral of Most Reverend Juan Gerardi, Auxiliary Bishop of Guatemala, murdered subsequent to his intervention in defence of human rights.

In May, Ms. Leddy travelled to Dundrum, Ireland, to take part in a consultation of episcopal committees on child sexual abuse.

From June 22 to 28, Bishop Martin Veillette, at the request of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, was part of an observer mission to Guatemala. Its aim was to demonstrate support for and solidarity with Guatemalan civilian and popular organizations that are struggling for peace and democracy.

In July, Bishop François Thibodeau, CJM, Chairman of the Social Affairs Commission, together with Mr. Gunn, as Co-Director of the Social Affairs Office, represented the Conference at the Pastoral World Congress on Human Rights in Rome. A detailed report was sent to you some weeks ago.

From August 4 to 6, at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Chairman of the Commission for Ecumenism, Bishop Brendan O’Brien, participated in a colloquium on ecumenism held in Mexico. The colloquium brought together all the bishops from throughout the American continent who are responsible for ecumenism in their respective Episcopal Conferences.

In early October, General Secretary Msgr. Peter Schonenbach travelled to East Timor as part of an ecumenical delegation organized by the Canada-Asia Working Group. Given the many injustices committed against Christians on this Indonesian island, it was felt opportune to demonstrate support for Most Reverend Carlos Filipe Belo, Bishop of the Diocese of Dili.

Even while we are meeting, Bishop Nicola De Angelis, CFIC, is in Rome where he is representing the CCCB at the Fourth World Congress for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. This was organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and involves some 250 representatives from most of the Episcopal Conferences throughout the world.

Finally, I especially wish to note that Most Reverend Adam Exner, OMI, Archbishop of Vancouver, was a member of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia, held in Rome April 19 to May 14. Also, I am happy to say that Most Reverend John Knight, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, has been named a member of the Special Assembly of Bishops for Oceania, which will meet in Rome, November 22 to December 12.

4. Highlights of the Executive and Permanent Council

The Executive and Permanent Council have also been busy. I would like to note a few items of business, which you are regularly informed about through the minutes of their meetings.

Not including several special meetings held in Rome during the Synod for America, the Executive Committee met together four times, in addition to which there was a conference call meeting. The Permanent Council met three times over the past year; the meeting that had been scheduled for last November was cancelled because of the Synod. The Programs and Priorities Committee met twice, with the National as well as Sectoral Commissions completing their various projects that had been planned for the past year.

Also over the past year, the Conference has established the Council and the Fund for Reconciliation, Solidarity and Communion with Aboriginal Peoples. Thanks to the generosity of Canadian dioceses, as well as the Knights of Columbus, religious communities, and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Fund now has sufficient resources to begin its work. There will be opportunity to discuss this new undertaking later during this Plenary Meeting.

The Holy Father recently announced the suppression of the Diocese of Gravelbourg and the Territorial Abbacy of St. Peter, Muenster, which are now part of the Dioceses of Regina and Saskatoon. Following a series of consultations, this reorganization was necessary because of various constraints and demographic changes over the last decades. The proposed changes had been proposed by the Bishops of Saskatchewan, revised by the Western Catholic Conference, and then approved by the Permanent Council at its meeting of April 1-2.

Over the past year our Conference has also been studying various questions associated with the Dioceses of the North. The ad hoc committee, under the chairmanship of Bishop Gilles Cazabon, OMI, has completed its study and will be submitting its recommendations before you during this Plenary.

5. Developments involving CCCB staff and offices

Last December, General Secretary Father Douglas Crosby, OMI, left office after only one and a half years, following his appointment on November 4 to the Diocese of Labrador City- Schefferville. On January 2, we had the pleasure of assisting at his episcopal ordination in St. Joseph’s Church, Ottawa. We thank him for his competency and efficiency as General Secretary of our Conference.

To replace a man of Bishop Crosby’s calibre it was necessary to find someone equally competent; since March 2, we have been able to count on the invaluable services of Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, PH. On behalf of all the members of the Conference, I offer him our best wishes for every success in his new duties and the assurance of our full support. I also wish to express my gratitude to Archbishop Marcel Gervais for allowing us to benefit from the excellent skills of one of his priests.

Since April, the Publications Service has a new director, Ms. Johanne Gnassi, who has been with the CCCB for a little over eight years as administration coordinator in publications and copyrights manager.

Ms. Gnassi replaces Mme Claire Dubé, who was awarded the Papal Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice at our Plenary Meeting last year. Claire died in January following the ravages of cancer. May the Lord render under to her a hundredfold what she generously contributed to the Conference over her 31 years of service.

Following the Bidd Report, our accounting and publishing offices have been reorganized, which has also meant some former employees departing and new co-workers arriving.

Since June, our Conference has been benefiting from electronic equipment installed free of charge by Telecom Italia, linking us directly with the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee and other Episcopal Conferences. Essentially, it is similar to the Internet but has the added advantages of being secure as well as dedicated to an exchange of information between Rome and the Episcopal Conferences as the third millennium approaches.

6. Called home by God

The first page of your Plenary documentation lists various episcopal appointments, deaths and anniversaries.

Those of our colleagues whom the Father has called home over the past year are:

Most Reverend J. Fergus O’Grady, OMI, deceased March 3
Most Reverend Louis Lévesque, deceased March 12
Most Reverend Neil E. Willard, deceased March 25
Most Reverend Henri Goudreault, OMI, deceased July 23
Most Reverend Bernard F. Pappin, deceased August 27

On this occasion, I want to say a few words about Archbishop Goudreault. We all tremendously miss his fraternal presence and dynamic energy. During the 11 years he was bishop, he devoted himself body and soul not only to the Conference, but to the two diocesan Churches that had been entrusted to him — Labrador City-Schefferville and Grouard- McLennan — as well as to the Universal Church. Along with other Canadian bishops, and General Secretary Father Goulet, I attended the funeral in McLennan, so marked by sadness and simplicity, and then the burial at the final resting place in the Girouxville cemetery. In memory of our brother and friend Henri, I wish once more to render him homage for his exemplary dedication. May the Lord grant him the eternal rest he so much deserves, and may Henri’s hopefulness and energy be with us throughout this Plenary Meeting.

7. Conclusion

These then, in summary, are the major highlights of the first year of my mandate. All this would not have been possible without the collaboration of many people, and I am most grateful to my colleagues on the Executive and Permanent Council for their confidence and support. To all of you, thank you for coming to this Plenary Meeting. May its deliberations be joyful and satisfying.

+  Jean-Claude Turcotte
Archbishop of Montreal
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops