OTTAWA - Canada's Catholic bishops examine the church's connection with other Christian churches in a document marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism.

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OTTAWA - The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has been appointed to the commission preparing the final pastoral message of the Synod on the family.

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OTTAWA - An Ottawa Catholic husband and father whose wife suffers a rare, early onset form of dementia is calling on Canada’s bishops to help advance a national dementia strategy. 

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The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops may have to re-fight a battle with the federal government over the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

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BEAUPRÉ, QUE. - The mission of the Church in North American is to go “con-cretely to places on the periphery,” Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega told Canada’s bishops on Sept. 16.

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OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has raised concerns about “serious challenges” at home and abroad in an open letter to Prime Minister Harper dated April 17.

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OTTAWA - The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his “extraordinary leadership” on the day the world found the pontiff would be stepping down from the papacy.

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OTTAWA - Canada’s Catholic bishops have denounced recent statements made in Canada by the Society of St. Pius X superior that “the Jews” are the “enemies of the Church.”

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OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wants something substantial to come out of the Jan. 11 meeting between the government and indigenous leaders.

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OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president has sent a condolence letter concerning the Dec. 14 school shootings to his American counterpart.

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A “culture of silence” and deference to “political conservatism” has infected the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), charges the head of the Jesuit-founded Centre Justice et Foi (Justice and Faith) in Montreal.

In an open letter to CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith, Elisabeth Garant said the elimination of the CCCB’s post of senior advisor for social justice, delaying and blunting the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s fall education campaign, inviting Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney to a private meeting and not criticizing refugee policy reforms amount to a “serious step back away from the rich Church tradition of social justice.”

Garant’s letter will be on the agenda of the next CCCB executive committee meeting Nov. 27-28. Until then, the conference has chosen to make no comment.

Garant served five years as a member of the CCCB’s Commission on Justice and Peace. She accuses the bishops of cozying up to the Conservative government because, she said, the CCCB has not engaged the Canadian government on an issue of social justice since December 2010. At that time, Kenney dismissed a letter from the bishops’ justice and peace commission as another in “a long tradition of ideological bureaucrats who work for the bishops’ conference producing political letters signed by pastors who may not have specialized knowledge in certain areas of policy.”

“From that moment we observe a silence,” said Garant. “Why are we silent on things that are not our personal issues but that we think for the common good we need to talk about?”

She also questions the CCCB for laying off social justice advisor Francois Poitras in order to help get its finances in order.

CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Patrick Powers has said layoffs were necessary. “We have had to rethink the way we do things, to do more and to cost less,” he told Canadian Catholic News.

“When Msgr. Powers said that this responsibility (for social justice) will be spread among other lay people at the conference, I don’t know any of them who have the experience or the competence to deal with social justice,” she said.

Garant also disputes the CCCB’s explanation behind the delay of the Development and Peace fall campaign. In a joint letter, the CCCB and Development and Peace explained that the campaign was delayed and modified because “concern was expressed that elements of the original materials could be a source of division among bishops, priests, parishioners and donors.”

“They are saying they do that for the sake of some faithful who will be hurt,” said Garant. “There’s no real proof of what they are talking about.”

Garant has yet to receive acknowledgment of her letter from the CCCB or Smith. Smith was in Rome in early November.

Though the Centre Justice et Foi has autonomy, it remains a Jesuit apostolate with the full confidence of Canada’s French-speaking Jesuit fathers, said Garant.

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OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) will outsource its in-house publishing division and cut the position of senior advisor on social justice.

“No area of the conference is not affected by the effort to cut down expenses and maximize productivity,” said CCCB General Secretary Msgr. Patrick Powers. “We have had to rethink the way we do things, to do more and to cost less.

“For many y e a r s the bishops have been grappling with finances,” he said. “The dioceses cannot afford to pay the amount of money required to keep the conference running.”

The per capita rate charged each diocese based on Census data of baptized Catholics has remained unchanged this year, but some poorer dioceses are having trouble meeting their assessment, he said.

Powers said he has met with CCCB employees to explain the fact the conference does not have unrestricted funds and must rein in spending “or the bank will close our doors.”

“It’s always so difficult to see people lose their jobs,” he said. “The bishops don’t take that lightly.”

Details of the outsourcing will be revealed later next month after the arrangements are finalized, he said, noting eight to 10 jobs could be affected.

The bishops have been studying the issue of CCCB Publications for 15 years, Powers said. The key, however, was finding a reputable North American company with a reputation for treating its employees well, he said.

“It is a communications firm we have dealt with in the past,” he said.

The position occupied by Francois Poitras, the senior advisor for social justice, has also been eliminated, said Powers. Among his duties, Poitras occupied the position of secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission.

Powers said many aspects of the CCCB secretariat’s operation have needed updating, especially its technological infrastructure.

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OTTAWA - During the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in Ste. Adele, Que., Sept. 24-28, the bishops reaffirmed their ongoing collaboration with their overseas development agency, both respecting its lay-run character and ensuring its Catholic identity.

The lay-run character of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace came under fire in recent weeks when its fall education campaign was put on hold after several bishops objected to the campaign for being too political, as first reported in The Catholic Register. The National Post and its sister papers picked up on the story Sept. 26.

The stories saying the bishops intervened, blocked or stopped the fall program are inaccurate, said CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith in a post-plenary interview from Edmonton Oct. 1.

“The most important thing to emphasize is the bishops are working with D&P on their fall campaign,” said Smith.

The bishops support the principle of D&P’s annual fall educational campaign which raises consciousness about the needs in the developing world “to make people aware of the plight but also the reasons behind it,” he said.

D&P can embark on education programs, but when the strategy includes working through the parishes in local dioceses, “nothing should be taking place without the consent of the local bishop,” he said.

This year’s fall campaign departed from D&P’s plan of focusing on environmental themes to raising questions about Canada’s international aid policies, following substantial reductions in CIDA grants over the next five years. The agency, founded by the bishops more than 40 years ago, was “formulating a campaign as part of a broader movement of development agencies,” Smith said.

“Some of the material was becoming a little more direct political lobbying than we’re accustomed to,” Smith said. Some bishops, Smith included, expressed concern the materials might cause divisiveness in parishes and among donors.

The bishops must ensure “whatever’s done fosters the unity of the Church and is in no way divisive,” he said.

Smith said he spoke to the leadership of D&P about the concerns, which they received graciously, openly and with a “readiness to understand.”

D&P’s leadership “gave some thought to the impact on the life of the Church” of their campaign and told the bishops they would “adjust their literature to reflect their concerns.”

The bishops also heard a report from Toronto Auxiliary Bishop John Boissonneau, from the Liaison Committee composed of D&P leadership and the CCCB’s Standing Committee on Development and Peace, about the progress of documents outlining the principles guiding D&P’s relationship with its overseas partners, contracts with partners, the integration of Pope Benedict XVI’s social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate into the agency’s work and the training of its staff.

Smith said the documents are “close to final draft stage” and “are still being reviewed.”

In other plenary news, the bishops approved next year’s budget and saw nothing unusual in the present financial pictures of the conference. There will be no hike this year in the per capita rates charged dioceses based on the numbers of Catholics living there.

The bishops also had an off-the-record meeting with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and that went well, Smith said.

“The conversation was very respectful, open and very frank... It was a welcome opportunity to speak to the minister as a voice for the voiceless,” Smith said. “He certainly did hear us.”

The bishops also marked the upcoming 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Smith spoke of how Pope Benedict XVI in his emphasis on the Year of Faith is the clearest voice calling for people to read and understand the documents of the Second Vatican Council so the new evangelization can be based on the beauty of the Catholic faith articulated in them.

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Ste. Adele, Que. - The Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church told Canada’s bishops Sept. 25 Western secularism challenges Ukraine’s post-Communist future and underlies the worldwide economic crisis.

“The current economic crisis is merely the symptom of a much deeper spiritual and cultural crisis,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual plenary. “As Western society rejects old moral structures and values, it finds that its moral GPS has no fixed and stationary points of reference.”

The first head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to address the plenary, Shevchuk said the Church must find “new courage” to proclaim the truth of the Gospel to contemporary society to provide “an anchor and compass.”

“We live in societies where virtue and goodness are frequently a veneer for religious intolerance, personal gratification and moral decay,” he said. “Secularism would like us to be closed in a little box of Sunday worship.”

The former Soviet Union used that approach to religion, he said.

“Separation of Church and state has become separation of faith values from society, yet our mission is to preach the Word of God to all, and to be a constant sign of God’s loving presence through social ministry,” he said. “Let us not be afraid of the totalitarianism of political correctness and speak the truth regardless of whom we might offend, whether it is on same-sex marriage or on the genocide of abortion.”

He called to mind the suffering of his Church during the Communist era, that witnessed to Christ both “in the catacombs” as well in in open defiance to the regime.

“So many martyrs and confessors have suffered for the faith in the last century. Let their example and witness be an inspiration for all of us,” Shevchuk said.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is “experiencing a period of resurrection” in Ukraine, he said.

“Fully embracing its identity of being ‘Orthodox in faith and Catholic in love’ we are aware of our role in allowing the Catholic Church to breathe with both its lungs, East and West,” he said.

Ukraine is experiencing social and economic challenges and has changed dramatically even in five years, he said. The country seems “torn between old influences and new attempts to integrate with the broader European community.”

Contemporary Ukrainian society mistrusts government, politicians and civil institutions, but the Church, especially the Ukrainian Catholic Church, “holds great moral authority.”

“The majority of Ukrainian citizens do not identify with any of the existing Churches, but have a hunger for God and are open to the missionary work of the Church,” he said. “In such circumstances the experience of new evangelization, which we are gradually acquiring, may become a precious treasure, which we would hope to share with the entire Catholic Church.”

The Ukrainian Catholic Church is marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of her first bishop in Canada. Shevchuk had presided at a Synod of Bishops for the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg the previous week to mark that centennial.

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Ste. ADÈLE, Que. - At their annual plenary Sept. 24-28 the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) are examining the prevention of clerical sexual abuse as part of its packed five-day agenda.

The 90-plus bishops gathered from across Canada will receive the updated guidelines prepared for submission to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, conference president Archbishop Richard Smith said in his annual president’s address at the Mont-Gabriel Hotel here Sept. 23.

“Of course our ongoing response must extend far beyond the articulation of protocols and procedures to an embrace in love and compassion of any person, family or community affected by this scourge,” Smith said.

The reflections will also deal with the impact of the clerical sexual abuse crisis on the ministry of priests and how bishops can provide better support. It will also look at the conditions that increase the risk of sexual abuse with an eye to prevention, according to the CCCB program for the week, most of which is closed to visitors and news media.

“How do we foster healing? How do we ensure safe environments? What are the situations that could facilitate boundary violations?” Smith asked, stressing that those in ministry must provide an “unblemished” example.

For the first time, a federal cabinet minister will address the plenary assembly. The off-the-record discussion with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney arose out of suggestion by previous CCCB president Bishop Pierre Morissette that there be more conversation with government representatives, said Smith, now in his second year of a two-year term as president.

“Over the last few years particularly, a number of you have posed questions about Canadian immigration and refugee policies,” Smith said, noting the bishops “as pastors of the Church are to give particular care for refugees and others displaced because of violence and poverty.”

The relationship between Kenney and the bishops has been contentious in the past, with Kenney firing back at a letter from the CCCB’s justice and peace commission critical of anti-human smuggling legislation the commission feared risked harming refugees more than smugglers. Kenney accused the bishops of relying on bureaucrats who “cut-and-pasted” talking points from immigration advocacy groups.

The session with Kenney will also give bishops an opportunity to talk about the difficulties they have with bringing priests in from foreign countries to serve in their dioceses.

The bishops will also reflect on a pastoral response to the suffering caused by the economic downturn.

“We often hear it said that Canada has not been impacted as seriously as other countries,” Smith said. “While that may be true, nevertheless it is of cold comfort to the unemployed or those struggling to find affordable housing.”

Smith used a theme of unity to organize the many initiatives and programs of the CCCB over the past year, noting the mission of bishops is to serve the Church’s unity.

The CCCB adopted a national plan for life and family that is now underway, that is another sign of unity “in our witness to the beauty and sanctity of life,” he said, noting respect for life continues to erode in Western society.

“Every society needs the assurance its caregivers can be entrusted with the lives of its vulnerable members — those in the womb, children, the elderly, the handicapped and the infirm,” he said. “The grave crimes of abortion, euthanasia and assisted-suicide seriously undermine that trust. These are real threats not only to the individual but also to the common good.”

The bishops are summoned to find ways to “reinforce the central ideals of Christian family life, and to celebrate the love and nurturing that many families today achieve despite difficulties,” he said. Smith said the CCCB would be calling on diocesan life and family offices as well as the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) for help in this endeavour.

The meetings on the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace have an hour dedicated to reports by the bishops on the agency's board and from the Standing Committee for Development and Peace.

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