Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
2023 Plenary Assembly
Brother Bishops, distinguished guests, and members of the CCCB staff,
I am pleased to present to the members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops my report on the activities of the Conference since its last plenary meeting.
The past year has been an exceptional one, marked by achievements in many areas. Today, I would like to focus on but two of these, because of their significance.
The CCCB’s pastoral solicitude for Indigenous Peoples is as old as the Conference itself. Yet, the Holy Father’s visit last July and his heartfelt apologies marked a significant milestone in the journey to reconciliation, a relatively recent focus for the CCCB, inspiring us to make new forays in our individual and collective pastoral engagements with Indigenous Peoples.
Let me begin by highlighting the long-anticipated publication of our four pastoral letters on reconciliation – to the First Nations, to the Inuit, to the Métis, and to the People of God in Canada. After three years of listening to Indigenous Peoples, followed by careful discernment and diligent work, we arrived at a series of key messages and commitments that, now having been published, will hopefully serve as a framework for furthering relationships of trust with Indigenous Peoples for years to come.
Our shared commitment to truth, healing, reconciliation, and hope will again be in evidence this week, as we consider future plans relative to the Canadian Catholic Indigenous Council, including how the Council itself might take up the commitments in the Pastoral Letters.
We know, of course, that reconciliation, if it is to be tangible, must have concrete local expression. For this, the role of individual dioceses and eparchies, each according to its means and ability, is indispensable. Thanks to their generosity, for example, the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund, which is only two years old, now stands at over $11 million and is well on track to exceed its five-year target of $30 million. Even more encouraging are the fruits of this incredible outpouring which can already be seen in the projects being initiated by Indigenous Peoples at the local level, supported by dioceses, to further healing and reconciliation.
Despite such progress, the legacy of the Residential Schools remains a source of real and prolonged intergenerational trauma for many. Appreciating that former students of the Residential Schools, as well as their children and grandchildren, wish to understand better the history of the schools in order to heal, and acknowledging that some of the records in certain diocesan archives could help this purpose, the Permanent Council approved Guidelines this year to help dioceses develop their own policies on the disclosure of information pertaining to Indigenous-related records in diocesan archives.
No one can deny that the roots of intergenerational trauma in history are complex and go beyond the unique story of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. Having heard Indigenous Peoples express these concerns, and after consulting the CCCB and USCCB, the Dicastery for Culture and Education and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development issued a statement on the ‘Doctrine of Discovery.’ Within it, the two Dicasteries stated unequivocally that “respect for the facts of history demands an acknowledgment of the human weakness and failings of Christ’s disciples in every generation. Many Christians have committed evil acts against Indigenous Peoples, for which recent Popes have asked forgiveness on numerous occasions” … “In no uncertain terms, the Church’s magisterium upholds the respect due to every human being. The Catholic Church therefore repudiates those concepts that fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples, including what has become known as the legal and political ‘doctrine of discovery.’” The ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ and its legacy will, in due course, be the subject of an academic symposium, which we hope will cast greater light on it and on the concepts of human dignity and love of neighbour, rooted in the teachings of Christ, which are antithetical to the repression of Indigenous rights.
In taking stock of the past and looking toward the future, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the expectations tied to reconciliation. On such occasions, the one word that keeps coming my mind (and which is a touchstone of the Church for Pope Francis), is simply “accompaniment.” By this, I refer to the ministry of listening and consolation which plays a crucial role in making concrete the compassionate solicitude of Christ and the Church to Indigenous Peoples. To those who wish to walk with us, what we can offer, above all, as Christians and as shepherds of Christ’s flock, is empathy, compassion, and prayer so that the important journey toward healing and reconciliation may culminate in true freedom and lasting hope, not only for those who are affected today, but for younger Indigenous generations, as well.
This same theme of “accompaniment” is central to the second major area of work by the Conference since our plenary meeting last September. I refer, of course, to the Synod on Synodality, to which I should like to dedicate the remainder of my report. Synodality is a manifestation of the Church’s nature as the People of God journeying together. It is in this way that synodality implies “accompaniment.”
In one week, I shall begin a month-long stay in Rome for the Synod on Synodality, joined by Bishop McGrattan, Archbishop Miller, and Bishop Pelchat, each of us as delegates of the CCCB. We will be joined by the “non-bishop” members of the Synod for Canada selected by Pope Francis: Mr. Sami Aoun, Dr. Catherine Clifford, Sr. Chantal Desmarais, and Mrs. Linda Staudt. Since August, we have held online meetings, including one with our US counterparts, to get to know each other better, to exchange on the Synod themes and questions, and above all to prepare spiritually for this important event in the life of the Church.
The journey leading up to this Synod has roughly taken two years of listening and dialogue, including both the National and Continental Stages. Furthermore, we know that the meeting this October is not the end of the work undertaken up to this point, but an intermediary step that will only conclude in October 2024.
One of the key developments in the synodal journey of this past year was the elaboration of the North American Final Document for the Continental Stage. To accomplish this with the USCCB, the CCCB participated in various online “Continental Assemblies” in English, French, and Spanish. In total, 146 Bishops and 931 other participants from Canada and the United States were appointed to participate in one of twelve such gatherings held in December 2022 to the end of January 2023. Together, the participants shared their perspectives on the Document for the Continental Stage issued by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in October 2022. I then participated in a week-long retreat in Orlando, along with representatives from Canada’s national synthesis writing team, as well as the USCCB Synod team, in order to produce the North American Final Document from what we heard.
At its core, synodality emphasises the dynamic, communal, and participatory nature of the Church, and is deeply rooted in the Church’s understanding of communion. During our plenary meeting this week, time has been set aside for us to reflect on the Instrumentum Laboris in order that the episcopal delegates of this Conference may come to know and better appreciate the perspectives of their brother Bishops regarding the questions that will be under consideration during the Synod. At this time, and on behalf of the other delegates, I ask for your accompaniment specifically in the form of prayer, so that we may contribute to the deliberations with wisdom and prudence for the good of the Church and her faithful.
In closing, I would like to stress that my report, which, in the interest of brevity, has only covered two aspects in the life of the CCCB since last September, does not mean to overlook the important work that has been accomplished by Bishops working in so many other domains: liturgy and the sacraments, evangelization and catechesis, family and life, doctrine and social justice, interfaith and ecumenical relations, Catholic movements and associations, responsible ministry and the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, and so much more. Much of your work in each of these areas, which is supported by the staff of the Conference, will be reviewed over the course of this week. Meanwhile, I invite you to take time to familiarize yourself with the contents of the Programme booklet, including the list of events and activities in the life of Conference since our last plenary meeting. In so doing, I am certain you will be edified by the energy and commitment of the CCCB in so many ways, manifesting a Church that is alive, generous, and faith-filled.
As we embark on the next few days of deliberations during this year’s plenary meeting, faced with the important and occasionally daunting work that we must accomplish, and conscious of our human limitations, let us ask the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to guide us “into all the truth” (Jn 16:13) and to deepen our communion with Jesus and each other; this way, our decisions and service of love can bear fruit in our evangelizing mission in Canada.
25 September 2023
“With eyes fixed on Christ” (Hb 12,2),
Bishop of Saint-Jérôme-Mont-Laurier
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops