Canadian bishops gather for annual plenary Sept. 23-27: meeting to make their voices heard

CCCB President Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil said government policies at all levels and recent court rulings “have shown contempt for those moral beliefs of Christians.” (Photo by Deborah Gyapong - Canadian Catholic News)

At a time when the ‘moral fabric’ of the country is changing, Canadian bishops grapple with confronting a post-Christian worlddview

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Cornwall, Ontario – CCN] – Religious persecution, the continuing fallout from past sexual abuse, reconciliation with First Nations and an ongoing commitment to “our missionary zeal”, were among the grand themes that emerged at the start of the annual Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) Sept. 23, 2019.

At the annual meeting, which continues until Sept. 27 at the NAV Centre in Cornwall, ON, CCCB President Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil stressed that although Canada is seen around the world as setting a good example on human rights, recent government policies at all levels and recent court rulings “have shown contempt for those moral beliefs of Christians which run counter to the thrust of other, ostensibly more progressive, social views.”

“The moral fabric of our country is well in the process of being reshaped,” Bishop Gendron said, citing the Ontario court of appeal’s unanimous decision to uphold a decision that overrides conscientious objections in medicine and require doctors to make effective referrals for euthanasia or abortion.

“While moral setbacks such as these are reason for deep concern, it remains important as faith leaders to make our voices heard,” he said. “We all recognize the need to gain a better grasp of the philosophical undercurrents which give almost exclusive authority to a post-Christian worldview.

“When the governments and courts of this land lead their citizens down morally erroneous paths, it is incumbent on us as shepherds in Canada to provide our flock with additional spiritual and intellectual resources,” he said.

While he lamented the moral reshaping underway, he did not shy away from addressing two large issues that the Catholic Church is dealing with – past sexual abuse of the young and reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

Addressing the issue of sexual abuse

“Perhaps nothing has hurt our credibility as teachers and witnesses of the Gospel more than sexual abuse committed by clergy, religious and laity, and its devastating effects on victims, their families and ecclesial communities, which we continue to feel deeply,” Gendron said in his President’s Report during the first session of the Plenary Assembly.

After asking how “we can repair the enormous damage?” he said: “The CCCB and individual bishops in their respective dioceses have taken up this challenge and initiative with seriousness of purpose.”

He added that as a follow up to last year’s Plenary Assembly, a Standing Committee for Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Adults has been established and will be meeting in a “few months’ time.”

The 2018 CCCB document Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse, published in October 2018, was to be the focus of further discussion at the 2019 conference to examine and hear about the initiatives being undertaken to further protect minors.

Gendron outlined the ways in which the church can further initiatives and new relationships with Indigenous peoples that he has witnessed.

“We were recently summoned to this task, confronted with the stories of survivors deeply affected and even traumatized by the sins and sometimes misguided ways of those priests and religious who ran the former Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the government,” he said.

Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

Issues related to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples were discussed over the course of the conference, with an emphasis being put on action and not just words.

“It must go beyond superficial offerings,” Gendron said. “It must touch Indigenous Peoples and make a real difference in their communities and lives.”

Palliative Care

An ad hoc committee on palliative care reported that a kit being developed focused on alleviating suffering through palliative car will hopefully be ready by 2021, reported Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith.

The kits, which are expected to include three- to five-minute videos as well as other written tools, are to be used as resources by parishes and are part of a collaborative effort of the CCCB and other Catholic institutions and social agencies. It is expected that once the resource kits are developed as parish resources, similar initiatives will be undertaken to develop educational resources about palliative care for use in schools and for healthcare personnel.

Mission Month

One of the issues discussed in detail at the CCCB conference is the Extraordinary Missionary Month, with the theme “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on a Mission in the World” which included a keynote address by Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

“Our missionary zeal must extend across this vast land from sea to sea to sea,” Bishop Gendron said of evangelization in the Canadian context and within the Church as a whole both at home and abroad.