Plenary of Canadian Catholic bishops sets the stage for Church’s future by addressing the past

Bishop William McGrattan, vice-president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Image: The Catholic Register, CCN)

Residential schools, COVID-19, an upcoming Synod were among items discussed at the CCCB annual Plenary

By Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News (with files from CCN service)

[Ottawa – CCN] – The future of the Catholic Church in Canada was the main theme of the most important annual gathering of the church’s leaders when Canada’s bishops gathered online for the second year-in-a-row for a virtual plenary assembly Sept. 20-24, 2021.

That future was examined through the lens of the past and the present — by addressing how the church can continue to repair the damage caused by the Church’s role in Canada’s residential school system and by considering how the Church can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a vital role to play in the lives of Canada’s Catholics.

“How we all had to use technology when the churches were closed to connect the Church with Canadians in difficult times, and how that will impact the Church going forward is something we will have to address and consider,” the newly-elected vice-president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) told the Canadian Catholic News in a post-2021 plenary assembly interview. “What is the balance between how technology can help connect the Church with Canadians and the more traditional everyone gather on Sunday in person for Mass is something that we will have to see evolve as the COVID situation changes,” said Calgary Bishop William McGrattan.

“How quickly will people be willing to get together again in person or will there be people who are more comfortable staying online in the future,” he said. “We don’t know what the future will hold.”

“We are planning to meet in person again next year in Cornwall (Ontario), but we will have to see if that is possible,” McGrattan added, pointing to the annual plenary of the CCCB in 2022. “Nobody really knows what is going to happen.”

Like the first virtual plenary assembly that was held online last year, the 2021 online version was significantly different than past assembly’s because representatives of Catholic lay organizations did not attend.

The agenda for the 2021 plenary included further efforts of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples and how to re-engage or continue the mission of the Church following the coronavirus pandemic.

Bishops pledge to work with Indigenous communities to make amends for residential schools – news item

Synod on Synodality

Bishop McGrattan said the steps being taken in the lead leading up to 2023 Synod of Bishops entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communication, Participation and Mission” will play a role in how the Church evolves and moves forward post-COVID.

“That whole process will likely have a big role to play in what will happen in the future,” said Bishop McGrattan.

The synod in 2023 will be an important resetting of the church’s pastoral mission going forward preparation documents from the Vatican have signaled.

“The upcoming synod is very important in the life of the universal Church and during this initial phase, all people of God — laity, religious, clergy — will be called to engage and dialogue on the synodal journey,” CCCB spokesperson Lisa Gall told the Canadian Catholic News in a recent email.

Catholic bishops apologize to Indigenous Peoples

As well as considering how the post-COVID church will re-engage with Canada’s Catholics, it was the Church’s relationship with Canada’s Indigenous communities that was at the heart of this year’s plenary assembly where Canada’s bishops made a clear statement of apology for the Church’s role in Canada’s notorious residential school system and pledged up to $30-million to help fund Indigenous-led reconciliation projects.

The newly-elected president of the CCCB, Ste-Jerome, Que. Bishop Raymond Poisson, said the funding commitment is an effort to put Indigenous Canadians and the Church on the “path to healing.”

“When the Bishops of Canada came together in Plenary (Sept.20-24), there was universal consensus that Catholic entities needed to do more in a tangible way to address the suffering experienced in Canada’s residential schools,” said Bishop Poisson. “Comprised of local diocesan initiatives, this effort will help support programs and initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of residential school survivors and their communities, ensuring resources needed to assist in the path of healing.”

According to the CCCB, “funding for projects will be determined locally, in consultation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples in each region. The Bishops of Canada have committed and tasked themselves to develop national principles and strategy, timelines, and the public communication of these collective initiatives this November.”


Canadian Catholic bishops: “Statement of Apology to the Indigenous Peoples of This Land” – news item

Catholic bishops announce $30-million national fund-raising appeal. – news item

Saskatchewan bishops provide update on the Catholic TRC Healing Response – news item


Catholic TRC Healing Response information and online giving – LINK