Religious freedom and evangelization top agenda for CCCB plenary

The 2018 CCCB Plenary focused on the release of updated national guidelines for the protection of minors. (File photo - Canadian Catholic News - CCN)

By Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

[OTTAWA – CCN] – When Canada’s Catholic bishops meet for their annual plenary Sept. 23-27, 2019, religious freedom and overseas missions will top the agenda on the first days of their assembly in Cornwall, Ontario.

Missing from this year’s public agenda is any discussion of the clerical abuse crisis that continues to dog dioceses around the world.

Last year, the sexual abuse crisis loomed high on the agenda of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) plenary in the wake of the McCarrick scandal in the United States, the unprecedented open letter of Archbishop Viganò, the former Nuncio to the United States, and the release Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on historical sexual abuse in dioceses in that state.

At its September 2018 plenary, the CCCB published the long-awaited document entitled Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation that had been in the works since 2011 and which built upon the Canadian bishops 1992 document From Pain to Hope. That 1992 document was among the first of its kind to deal with the clerical sexual abuse crisis that was first emerging at that time.

The new document deals with the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults and focuses on care of victims.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, who chaired a three-day summit on clerical sexual abuse in the Vatican last Feb. 21-24, described the new Canadian document as an example for other episcopal conferences.

Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience

This year, the CCCB plenary will address current challenges to religious freedom and freedom of conscience through an interfaith and ecumenical panel of Catholic, Anglican, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu representatives.

Evangelization and Overseas Missions

Evangelization and overseas missions will also figure prominently in this year’s plenary, gathering of about 80 bishops and eparchs from across Canada.

Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, is the keynote speaker.

The Pontifical Mission Societies represent the Catholic Church’s official overseas missions in evangelization and charitable works and are under the direct supervision of the Pope.

Archbishop Dal Toso will speak on the theme “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on a Mission in the World” adopted for the Extraordinary Mission Month of October 2019.

Update on Development and Peace review

The Canadian bishops’ own overseas development arm, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace/Caritas Canada (CCODP), has been undergoing a joint study with the CCCB of 52 of its overseas partners. A number of dioceses and the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) suspended contributions to CCODP in early 2018, because some projects funded by CCODP were being carried out by partners that were also advocating for abortion or engaging in activities contrary to Catholic teaching.

Though none of the projects were found to be problematic, funding to those 52 agencies, CCODP has ceased funding projects through those partners while the study is ongoing.

Last year, the bishops received a preliminary report on the study, following which those dioceses withholding monies and the CWL released funds to CCODP.

On Sept. 9, CCODP said in a news release that two phases of the joint study begun in Mid-May 2019 have been completed.

“As had been agreed by the CCCB and CCODP, the review is being conducted by the firm Deloitte with the objective of providing recommendations to ensure greater alignment between CCODP and the CCCB and to identify potential solutions,” the release said.

Deloitte Canada, a consulting and accounting firm, is preparing its final report and recommendations and will present it to representatives of the CCCB and CCODP at the end of September, the release said.

Northern Dioceses / Indigenous Peoples / Youth Day

The CCCB plenary will include a discussion of Canada’s northern dioceses that only recently moved to being normal dioceses under the Congregation for Bishops from a status as missionary dioceses.

Also, on the agenda, ongoing efforts for reconciliation with and pastoral care of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

The bishops will receive reports on the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama last Jan. and on the 2019 International Youth Forum Sept. 14-15 in Chennai, India.

CCCB leadership

Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil will chair his final plenary as he wraps up a two-year term as president. Traditionally, the presidency alternates between a French language speaker and an English-language speaker and if the pattern follows previous years, the current vice-president, Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, will assume the role of president for the next two years.

Though the bishops are free to depart from the previous pattern, if it holds, the French-language co-treasurer Archbishop Luc Cyr of Sherbrooke will move into the position of vice-president. The other co-treasurer is Bishop Terrence McGrattan of Calgary. There will be an election during the plenary of a new co-treasurer.

The bishops will also approve a budget for the CCCB secretariat that helps them engage in their common activities. The CCCB secretariat is a registered charity under the name Concacan Inc. In 2018, it reported a total revenue of $8,243,506 in revenue, including more than $3 million as gifts from other registered charities – the contributions the various dioceses make to support the secretariat. Concacon spent more than $5 million carrying out charitable purposes, including the advancement of the Roman Catholic religion. It reported spending $1.3 million in management and administration.

Guests and Media Coverage

About 20 guests, including ecumenical and interfaith partners, and heads of various Catholic associations have been invited to the public session on Monday Sept. 23 to noon on Sept. 24. Accredited media will also be present.

For the first time, Salt and Light TV will be live-streaming the public sessions on the internet via and via its Facebook page. Salt and Light will also broadcast the daily Masses and Evening Prayer (Vespers) and a daily media briefing in both English and French.