Pope Francis meets with Canadian bishops from Ontario April 25 during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Ontario bishops share concerns with Pope, especially on euthanasia

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  • April 25, 2017

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has offered encouragement to Ontario’s bishops in their fight for conscience rights for health care workers.

Conscience rights was a key topic among several talking points raised by the 21 Ontario bishops when they met with the Pope during their ad limina visit to the Vatican April 25.

The Ontario group spent almost two hours talking with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the group expressed its concerns about proposed Ontario legislation that offers no protection for the right of doctors and other health care workers to conscientiously object to participating directly or indirectly in helping a patient die. Physicians are currently subject to discipline that can include license suspension if they refuse to make an “effective referral” for a patient seeking a legal assisted death.

Pope Francis, the bishop said, “agreed with our concern” and encouraged the bishops in their fight.

“It is a pressing issue for us,” said Bishop Ronald Fabbro, president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins described the conscience provisions surrounding legalized euthanasia as “the most urgent issue we are dealing with.”

Among other matters discussed during the meeting were the Canadian Catholic Church’s relations with indigenous communities, immigration and medically assisted suicide in Canada.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2015 that people who are “grievously and irremediably ill” have a right to medical assistance in dying. Parliament then had to draft laws to implement the decision and provinces had to follow suit.

Collins said because the court decision was unanimous, it will not be easy to overturn. In the meantime, the bishops of Ontario are working to get conscience protections into provincial norms, educating the faithful and providing material and moral support to Catholic health care providers to improve access to palliative care.

The cardinal characterized the visits with the various Vatican offices as “very free-flowing conversations” on almost every imaginable topic of concern to both the local and universal Church. “It’s not like, ‘What is the No. 1 burning issue?’ ”

Speaking just an hour after leaving Pope Francis, Collins said, “He’s a wonderful man, a very loving, pastoral person. What you see is what you get. He’s very kind and very prayerful. It’s always a high point of the ad limina to meet the Pope.”

Like the two groups of Canadian bishops that preceded them, the bishops of Ontario said their meeting with Pope Francis was time spent with a brother bishop with similar joys and challenges in his pastoral work.

The visits “ad limina apostolorum” — to the threshold of the apostles — are a combination of a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul and meetings with the main Vatican offices to exchange information, insights and ideas.

The meeting with Pope Francis was an informal exchange of concerns and signs of hope — and at least one joke told by Pope Francis that Fabbro and Crosby declined to share with Catholic News Service. But it was funny, they said.

In some ways, Crosby said, the ad limina does for a bishop “what the bishop does for the diocese in trying to make the parishes aware that they are not independent units, that we belong to a bigger group of people, the community is much larger.” Meeting with the Pope and Roman Curia officials highlights that the Church “is very big indeed.”

Asked what he was taking away from his meeting with the Pope, Crosby immediately said “rosaries” and pointed to a large envelope of rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.

Fabbro said his takeaway was “an encouragement to keep prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel the heart of my ministry.”

Pope Francis spoke “of the importance of evangelization and how nowadays you aren’t preaching to force people into the church, but you want to attract them to the message,” Crosby said.

“The way he explains things is simple. You have a sense that he has a good understanding of humanity... He’s a light to us.”

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