By Peter Stockland, The Catholic Register
[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Toronto Archbishop Francis Leo will be at “old home week” as the new kid on the block when Canada’s Catholic bishops convene for their annual plenary meeting Sept. 25-28, 2023.
It will be the first time Leo has attended the gathering wearing a bishop’s mitre after he succeeded Cardinal Thomas Collins last February. It will be old hat for him in other ways, though, given that he was general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) from 2015-2021.
And although the clerical confab will be held in Toronto, not in Cornwall, Ont., as has been the case in recent years, it might still feel like an away game for the 52-year-old native Montrealer.
He moved to Toronto only in the spring to take up pastoral leadership of the city’s 2.3 million Roman Catholics. Leo told The Catholic Register he doesn’t anticipate difficulties making the shift between being overseer of the event to being the newest, albeit biggest by archdiocesan size, “brother bishop” in the plenary room.
“I always enjoyed witnessing both the effective and affective aspects of this annual ecclesial gathering of the shepherds of the Church in Canada,” Leo said in an e-mail. “I look forward to being part of this year’s conversations as a brother bishop and to discuss, discern and decide, when possible, on the many activities, initiatives and insights of the conference and the path ahead together for the building up of the Kingdom of God. Unity, communion and fraternal listening have always been hallmarks of the CCCB plenaries.”
The issue of listening raised some sparks around the plenary in 2022 when the bishops elected to close the entire event to outside observers, including Catholic media, because it was the first chance they had to meet as a group since the onset of the COVID pandemic lockdowns.
A reporter for a Quebec religious news agency went so far as to file a formal complaint with a provincial journalists’ association, which produced more heat than light.
This year’s plenary has a full day open to the media and “invited guests” on Sept. 25, 2023, when, among other business, the bishops will get a debrief from the Standing Committee on Family and Life about palliative care and the expansion of medically provided euthanasia, known as Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD).
They’ll also get a look at the launch of a new website on interfaith dialogue with Muslims, and a review of last August’s World Youth Day in Portugal.
The following day’s progress reports on the crucial $30 million Indigenous Reconciliation Fund as well as pastoral accompaniment of Indigenous people will be delivered behind closed doors. So will a “structural review of the CCCB” itself, and an update from the Standing Committee on Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable persons. The day will end, however, with a press briefing.
There will also be a formal press conference on Sept. 28 to close the 2023 plenary.
Leo’s emphasis on listening is fitting for this year’s plenary given its timing just before the massive Synod on Synodality starts in Rome Oct. 4 and runs until Oct. 28. The first of two global assemblies — the second is next year — is seen as reaching into the very form, style and structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
Asked how he expects Canada’s bishops to use next week’s meeting to prepare for such a potentially controversy-laden occasion, Toronto’s new Archbishop demonstrated the gifts he honed during six years in the Vatican diplomatic corps, serving in nunciatures around the world and as a chaplain for Pope Benedict XVI. “We will join in communal intercession for an outpouring of grace upon those participating in the forthcoming Synod, that the discussions with the Holy Father and all those gathered may be fruitful and constructive in witnessing to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the former diplomat said.