Report of the President: 1999 Plenary Meeting

Wednesday, October 13 1999

My colleagues and friends:

1. Introduction

After visiting the four pastoral regions of Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) finds itself again in the National Capital Region. However, this time we are not exactly at Ottawa but in the pastoral territory of Bishop Eugene LaRocque. It is a pleasure for us to be here in Cornwall, where over the coming days we will be able to make use of the facilities of Nav Canada and enjoy the welcome of the Diocese of Alexandria- Cornwall. As in past years, the Knights of Columbus again will also assist. On behalf of the Conference and CCCB personnel, I would like to thank the Knights for these services.

With this Plenary Meeting my mandate will come to an end as President of the CCCB. While I plan on saying a few words about these past two years in my closing remarks next Tuesday, at this point I would like to review the main activities and events that have marked this last pastoral year.

2. Activities of the CCCB President

Barely a week after the last Plenary Meeting in Niagara Falls, I was on the way to Jerusalem, with General Secretary Father Émilius Goulet, PSS. There we participated in a symposium that also included the Presidents and delegates of other Episcopal Conferences as well as representatives of the Holy See and the bishops of the Holy Land. During the course of the symposium, October 26-27, 1998, we had occasion to meet the President of Israel, Mr. Ezer Weizmann, and the President of the National Palestinian Authority, Mr. Yasser Arafat. We also had an opportunity to reflect on the status of Jerusalem as we tried, with the year 2000 approaching, to look for possible solutions to the many difficulties that face the various religious faiths and political leaders in the Holy Land.

Following this symposium, on January 14, 1999, together with other members of the Executive Committee as well as the two General Secretaries, I participated in a meeting with representatives of the Government of Canada including Mr. Michael Kerging, foreign policy advisor with the Prime Minister’s Office and assistant secretary to the Cabinet, to discuss Canadian policies on Palestine and Israel.

Beginning November 4, 1998, after a personal appeal for help from Most Reverend Réal Corriveau, PMÉ, Bishop of Choluteca, Honduras, and with the agreement of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), I served as the president of a fundraising campaign to assist the Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch. Thanks to the generosity of the individual faithful of Canada as well as with help from private enterprises, schools, labour unions, parishes and religious communities, more than $10 million was collected to assist the four countries most devastated: Honduras, Nicaragua, Salvador and Guatemala.

I wish to note the efficiency and professionalism of the staff of Development and Peace not only in response to Hurricane Mitch but also with respect to other urgent needs during the past year. In addition to the emergency funding collected for the victims of Hurricane Mitch, almost $300,000 was raised to assist the earthquake victims in Columbia in January and, more recently, almost another $400,000 was sent to assist Kosovar refugees.

From January 22 to 25, 1999, in the company of a number of other members of the Conference, I went to Mexico where the Holy Father personally presented the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America. The exhortation, it seems to me, faithfully reflects the many preoccupations and concerns that had been raised by the Synod Fathers and other participants during the Synod for America. The challenges that need to be addressed by the Church in Canada, as we enter the new millennium, are clearly outlined in the exhortation. Later during this Plenary Meeting we will have an opportunity to reflect on how to implement this Post-Synodal Exhortation.

From February 14 to 16, the 17th Inter-American Meeting of Bishops met in Cuba, marking the first anniversary of the Holy Father’s pastoral visit there the year before. The meeting provided an opportunity for the members of the CCCB Executive to discuss the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America with the representatives of CELAM and the American Episcopal Conference, as well as other issues of mutual concern. Over the years, this annual meeting has become an important forum for the representatives of the various Episcopal Conferences to discuss common projects and to express the solidarity and communion of our particular Churches. In the future, the Inter-American meeting will be known as the Meeting of the Bishops of the Church in America, and will have a planning committee on which the CCCB will be represented by its two General Secretaries.

With the most recent Meetings of the Bishops of the Church in America having been in Saint Lucia and Cuba, the plan for the next one is to provide a special focus on the Church in Cuba. It seems to me the Church there urgently needs our gestures of communion and solidarity. Accordingly, a Haitian bishop is being invited to participate in the upcoming meeting which will be held in Vancouver in February 2000.

Returning to my activities over the past year as President, on August 2, I represented the Conference at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus in Minneapolis. The previous month, General Secretary Msgr. Peter Schonenbach and Assistant General Secretary Mr. Bede Hubbard had visited the New Haven, Connecticut, headquarters of the Knights to discuss various questions with members of their Supreme Council. During my own discussions in Minneapolis, as well as those with the two representatives of the Conference in New Haven, it became clear that in addition to providing ongoing financial support for a number of projects, the Knights of Columbus at present are putting special focus on certain ethical questions as well as the relations with Native Peoples. Clearly, without the generous financial support of the Knights of Columbus, the CCCB would be obliged to curtail a number of its programs and activities. In the name of all the members of our Conference, I gratefully acknowledge the significant generosity of the Knights for their tangible and financial support to the pastoral ministry of the Church.

3. Other Activities and Representation

There were also other CCCB members as well as CCCB staff who represented the Conference at various activities and meetings over the past year, both in Canada and abroad. On December 8, 1998, Most Reverend Marcel Gervais, Archbishop of Ottawa, together with other presenters including Cardinal Josef Tomko and Archbishop Josef Cordes, gave an address as part of an international colloquium organized in Rome by the National Catholic Stewardship Council. The presentation by Archbishop Gervais was on the topic “To be disciple is to be a steward”.

From February 8 to 11, at the invitation of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Most Reverend André Richard, CSC, was in Rome as President of our National Committee of the Great Jubilee for a colloquium on Jubilee activities. Subsequently, Bishop Richard made several suggestions as to the role of the CCCB in organizing Canadian groups going to Rome during the year 2000. Accordingly, as you already know, all groups of Canadian Jubilee pilgrims going to Rome are to be accredited by their dioceses or the Episcopal Conference on behalf of the Roman centre that has this reponsibility.

From February 9 to 12, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic and Father Gilles Langevin, SJ, took part in a meeting organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in California. This meeting involved representatives of the Holy See as well as the chairmen of the doctrinal commissions of the various Episcopal Conferences as well as a number of theologians. Among the questions discussed were the authority of the Magisterium, the significance of the profession of faith, and the dialogue between bishops and theologians. Cardinal Ambrozic gave a presentation on the implications of feminism for Catholic doctrine.

In June, Most Reverend Pierre Morissette was in Cologne together with the representatives of the Episcopal Conferences of the G-7 countries as well as of debtor nations. Bishop Morissette participated in the preparation of a common statement on eliminating the debts of the world’s poorest countries. The joint statement was presented to the G-7 political leaders during their annual meeting that was held this year in Germany, June 18-20, 1999.

Finally, from September 28 to October 3, a large Canadian delegation participated in the first American Missionary Congress that was held in Parana, Argentina. It included Most Reverend André Gaumond, François Lapierre, PMÉ, Gilles Lussier and Brendan O’Brien; General Secretary Father Émilius Goulet, PSS, and Ms Adèle Bolduc, director of the CCCB Office for the Evangelization of Peoples; and the two national directors of the Pontifical Missions Societies, Father Roger Bédard and Sister Leona Spencer, CSJ.

4. Activities of the Executive and Permanent Council

As in former years, there was again no shortage of activities involving the Executive Committee and Permanent Council. Without going into detail, as you already have the minutes of the meetings of the Executive and Permanent Council since the last Plenary, I will limit myself to several particularly significant items. The reorganization of the Northern Dioceses is proceeding. After the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples gave a prudent nod to the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Northern Dioceses, each regional conference was invited to establish its own special committee to look at the proposed reorganization. The Western Catholic Conference has already adopted the proposal with respect to rearranging the Northern dioceses associated with British Columbia and Alberta, and this was approved by the Permanent Council on April 1. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in turn has indicated it would be favourable to the dioceses of northern British Columbia coming under the common law of the Church and also becoming the suffragan sees of Vancouver. At the same time, the Congregation wants a more detailed study on proposals for the other Northern dioceses as well as an overall pastoral plan.

With respect to relations with Native Peoples, in addition to the pastoral message on native spirituality that was released this past May by the Episcopal Commission for the Evangelization of Peoples, members of the Executive met with Mr. Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), together with two of his colleagues. Similar meetings between the AFN and CCCB are also foreseen for the coming years, giving good reason for us to hope relations with Native Peoples can continue to be strengthened.

Particular attention has been given over the past year to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, while at the same time respecting the decision by our Conference to make the Jubilee Year especially a diocesan priority. Accordingly, the mandate of the National Committee for the Great Jubilee has been broadened. In addition to coordinating information at the national level, it now is also to be responsible for studying proposals that are submitted to the Conference as possible way to celebrate the Jubilee, and then to recommend to the Executive those projects it finds the most promising.

Possible plans for hosting World Youth Days in Canada in 2002 also had an important place in the deliberations of the Executive Committee and Permanent Council. During this Plenary Meeting there will be a report by Most Reverend Anthony Meagher, President of the Advisory Committee for World Youth Days. The Committee also includes Most Reverend Thomas Collins, François Lapierre, PMÉ, and James Wingle, as well as the two General Secretaries.

The Church in Canada recently celebrated the 350th anniversary of the deaths of the Canadian Martyrs. The Permanent Council marked this occasion with its September 14 pastoral letter recalling the memory and heritage of these important witnesses to our Christian faith. The message was published by the CCCB as a full-colour pamphlet, which is being distributed throughout Canada, and the text has already been translated into Italian by the Osservatore Romano.

The past year has also seen particular attention given to preparing the CCCB budget for 2000. Following the wishes of the 1998 Plenary Meeting in Niagara Falls, the Advisory Committee on Financial Issues, the Executive Committee and the Permanent Council have attempted to reduce the operating expenses of the Conference so that the per capita can return to its 1997 level. As the Co-Treasurers will explain to you later, accomplishing this has meant having to cut back on CCCB positions and services. Needless to say, this has been both difficult and painful.

Following the 1998 Plenary Meeting and later a vote by all CCCB members, the French Sector Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis was sent to the Holy See for its recogitio. The Ratio of the English Sector will be coming before you during this Plenary for final approval in order for it also to be submitted to the Holy See. We owe special thanks to the two bishops who piloted these projects, Most Reverend Eugène Tremblay for the French Sector and Most Reverend Eugene Cooney for the English Sector. The work that went into preparing the two texts will certainly bear fruit over the years to come, and continue to enhance the formation programs that are under way in the various seminaries across Canada.

Several other items also involved the particular attention of the Conference over the past year. Keeping things brief, let me simply enumerate them: native residential school questions, the eventual reception in Canada of the relics of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, preparations for the 1999 Plenary Meeting, the question of Catholic education in the various regions of Canada, various interventions to authorities in Canada or other countries to address situations of injustice, and follow-up to requests from the Roman dicasteries.

Finally, I wish to point out that members of the Executive Committee again this year, as in the past, met with the Executives of the Catholic Women’s League, the Canadian Religious Conference, and also Development and Peace. As well, on September 27 and 28, the CCCB Executive Committee met with the Executive of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops. During this meeting there were discussions on several topics of common interest, including the various meetings of the Synod of Bishops, the organization of a North American congress on vocations, the translation of liturgical texts, and World Youth Days.

5. CCCB offices and staff

There have been a number of changes among Conference staff over the past months, with several leaving and others coming on board.

The Canadian Appeal Tribunal has seen three departures: Father Maurice Dionne, CSsR, who had been Judicial Vicar over the past seven years, as well as Sister Marjory Gallagher, SC, and Ms Christine Houle. Two new staff members are now with the Tribunal: Father Pierre Allard, SM, who has taken over the work of Father Dionne, and Mme Madeleine Chartrand.

In the CCCB Administration Services, Mme Claire Boult retired and was replaced by Mme Manon Renaud.

In the office of the General Secretariat, Mmes Lise Bergeron and Sylvia Gravel decided to retire. As of March, Mme Geneviève Pascal has been secretary in the Communications Service, replacing Mme Gravel.

Over the past year, the Executive Committee decided it would have to inform Mr Bernard Dufresne that his contract as co-director of the Social Affairs Office would not be renewed, effective February 26, 2000. After giving further reflection to the terms of his contract and various options, Mr Dufresne decided to terminate his employment earlier than had been anticipated. He had served the Conference for almost 22 years.

It is always sad to see those leave who have so well served the Conference and become our friends. To those who have left over the past months, we offer our thanks for their invaluable support over the years. We also wish them an enjoyable and well-deserved retirement or, as the case may be, an exciting new area of activity where their competence and love for the Church can continue to be of service.

At the same time, we must also recognize that the past year has been one of worry and concern for all CCCB staff. Yet in spite of at times a difficult working situation, the CCCB staff have continued their work in a way that merits the admiration of the members of our Conference. It is with a great sense of gratitude that, on behalf of all my brother bishops, I say a heartfelt thank you to the staff of our Conference.

6. Conclusion

In early May, we had the pleasure of welcoming among us the new Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, His Excellency Most Reverend Paolo Romeo, who has taken over from Archbishop Carlo Curis. In a few moments, Archbishop Romeo will share a few words with us, after which we will gather for a small reception in his honour. His arrival in Canada coincides with the 100th anniversary of the nomination of the Holy See’s first delegate to Canada and the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Canada and the Holy See. Both anniversaries are an occasion to rejoice in the exceptional work on the part of the Apostolic Nunciature in Canada and the Canadian Embassy to the Holy See. Invaluable for their services that they contribute to the life of the Church in Canada, each of these missions has also helped to ensure cordial and fruitful relations between Canada and the Holy See.

So ends my second and final report as President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. When our Plenary Meeting concludes on Tuesday, it will be with considerable satisfaction that I hand over the reins to my successor. As I indicated earlier, I will also use that occasion to say a few words about my whole term as President, and also to thank those who have helped me so much in the responsibilities of this office.

X Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte
Archbishop of Montreal
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops