Canadian Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton Photo by Michael Swan

Canadian bishops pull out of interfaith group

By 
  • March 15, 2012

Canada’s Catholic bishops are pulling out of a national interfaith dialogue they helped establish.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has informed the Canadian Council of Churches it will not participate in an ongoing interfaith conversation with representatives from major Christian churches and non-Christian faith bodies.

The CCC’s interfaith conversation began as the Interfaith Partnership in the run-up to the 2010 interfaith leaders’ summit in Winnipeg. That body was established to engage with world political leaders coming to Canada for the G8/G20 summit. Parallel faith leaders’ summits have been a feature of G8 meetings since 2005.

When the CCC sent out a March questionnaire to participants in what is now called the interfaith conversation, the CCCB’s response was to decline further participation.

“The CCCB has indicated that it prefers for the time being to be an observer,” said spokesman René Laprise in an e-mail to Canadian Catholic News.

“While the CCCB is firmly committed to interfaith conversations and collaboration, the conference is concerned the so-called Interfaith Partnership risks setting up unrealistic expectations and lacks sufficient clarity about its ends and means if any eventual results are to be workable, affordable, bilingual and truly representative of the faith communities across Canada.”

The CCCB, however, remains a member of the CCC.

“Some of the denominations of the Canadian Council of Churches continue to participate fully and others, for reasons of their own size or polity or understanding of interfaith relations, are not able to do so at this time,” said CCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton.

The Interfaith Partnership lived on past the 2010 G8/G20 event at first because it had received a grant from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to involve local communities across Canada in interfaith dialogue with Members of Parliament. While the group remained together over a year to monitor that project, members of the dialogue began to discuss the possibility of a more permanent conversation. As it stands the group has no budget and no formal goals beyond a willingness to explore areas of mutual concern which include “issues of poverty, millennium development goals, making life more livable for the people of God’s world,” said Hamilton.

The CCCB expects tighter definitions and goals for its interfaith work.

“The Catholic Church is deeply committed to interfaith conversations and work and has a theological understanding for this,” said Laprise. “Few, if any, other Christian communities have yet to develop this theological basis for interfaith relations.”

The CCCB is represented on the Canadian Council of Churches interfaith reference group and is involved in the National Christian-Muslim Liaison Committee and the Canadian Christian-Jewish Consultation. Its Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews and Interfaith Dialogue has open files seeking possible conversation with Hindus and Buddhists. “There is no other Church in Canada as deeply or extensively involved in interfaith concerns,” said Laprise.

The CCCB wants to encourage and strengthen local interfaith groups such as the Toronto Area Interfaith Council.

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