CCCB president says Catholics must speak out on moral issues

The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Archbishop Gagnon of Winnipeg, delivered his report to the 2020 CCCB Plenary Assembly online. (File photo by Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News - CCN)

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News

[Ottawa – CCN] – Catholics have every right as Canadian citizens to speak out on matters of public policy from the perspective of faith, said the president of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB) in his annual Plenary Assembly report.

It is time “to ignite a new fire among our lay faithful, to encourage the prophetic mission of those in consecrated life,” CCCB President Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg said in a report presented at the first-ever online CCCB Plenary Assembly, held Sept. 21-25.

“The moral fibre of our culture – not to mention the ethical landscape of our communities – seems to be confronted with an aggressive ideology, which is at the root of the euthanasia and assisted suicide issue, as well as, transgenderism, not to mention horrific acts of racism in its many forms,” said Archbishop Gagnon.

“I believe that more can and must be done at the local level,” he said, addressing the response of Canadian Catholics to issues such as the continuing debate in Canada over the legalization of medically-assisted suicide and who qualifies for a legal medically-induced death.

“Is it time, perhaps, to reinvigorate our pastors and pastoral teams, to ignite a new fire among our lay faithful, to encourage the prophetic mission of those in consecrated life – so that human life may be promoted, respected, celebrated and nurtured in all ways and at all times in our local communities of faith?”

“In the end, we know that restoring and strengthening the moral fibre of our society will require that relationships between peoples be based on truth and in a common, dare I say ‘synodal’, fashion,” Gagnon said.

In a telephone interview after the plenary assembly – which was held as an online event this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – Archbishop Gagnon told Canadian Catholic News that the CCCB will continue to speak out on issues such as the potential expansion of who qualifies for a legal assisted suicide in Canada and a proposed ban on “conversion therapy,” a controversial practise that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Making it easier to qualify for euthanasia, and a bill to ban conversion therapy for minors and curtail advertising of such therapy for adults, were introduced as government bills in the spring. However, that proposed legislation must now be reintroduced because the minority Liberal government prorogued Parliament in August. Government business resumed Sept. 23 with the Speech from the Throne delivered in the House of Commons.

The federal government has stated that it will re-introduce the bill to make it easier for Canadians to access medically-assisted suicide / euthanasia. However, it is less clear if a new bill will be introduced to ban conversion therapy, and how it will impact faith groups.

“I don’t know what a new conversion therapy bill, if they move forward with that, will say and how it will be worded, but this is something that concerns not just Catholics but a lot of other people too, because the wording of the previous bill before Parliament was prorogued was very loose and it wasn’t very clear,” Gagnon told the Canadian Catholic News in a phone interview from Winnipeg.

He said the Catholic Church does not support forcing anyone to undergo conversion therapy, but how a proposed ban is worded is important, because a “loosely worded” bill could create a law that “doesn’t clearly spell things out.”

“Interpretation is a problem if it is not clear,” Gagnon said.

“There must be a balance that respects all Canadians’ rights. And that includes freedom of religion rights and conscience rights,” he said.

As Gagnon said in his president’s report to the recently-concluded CCCB Plenary Assembly: “From a gospel of life point of view, these ever-present and burning issues need a coherent, robust and united response from us as leaders of faith communities and shepherds committed to protecting our flocks from dangers of many kinds.”