CCCB President Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Bishops grapple with ‘moral setbacks’ at plenary

By  Brian Dryden, Canadian Catholic News
  • September 24, 2019

CORNWALL, ONT. -- Religious persecution, the continuing fallout from past sexual abuse, reconciliation with First Nations and an ongoing commitment to “our missionary zeal” were among the grand themes that emerged at the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

At the five-day annual meeting, which began Sept. 23 at the NAV Centre in Cornwall, CCCB President Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil stressed that although Canada is seen around the world as setting a good example on human rights, recent government policies at all levels and recent court rulings “have shown contempt for those moral beliefs of Christians which run counter to the thrust of other, ostensibly more progressive, social views.”

“The moral fabric of our country is well in the process of being reshaped,” Gendron said, citing the Ontario court of appeal’s unanimous decision to uphold a decision that overrides conscientious objections in medicine and require doctors to make effective referrals for euthanasia or abortion.

“While moral setbacks such as these are reason for deep concern, it remains important as faith leaders to make our voices heard,” he said. “We all recognize the need to gain a better grasp of the philosophical undercurrents which give almost exclusive authority to a post-Christian worldview.

“When the governments and courts of this land lead their citizens down morally erroneous paths, it is incumbent on us as shepherds in Canada to provide our flock with additional spiritual and intellectual resources,” he said.

While he lamented the moral reshaping underway, he did not shy away from addressing two large issues that the Catholic Church is dealing with — past sexual abuse of the young and reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations.

“Perhaps nothing has hurt our credibility as teachers and witnesses of the Gospel more than sexual abuse committed by clergy, religious and laity, and its devastating effects on victims, their families and ecclesial communities, which we continue to feel deeply,” Gendron said in his president’s report during the first session of the plenary assembly.

After asking how “we can repair the enormous damage,” Gendron said, “the CCCB and individual bishops in their respective dioceses have taken up this challenge and initiative with seriousness of purpose.” 

He added that as a follow-up to last year’s plenary, a standing committee for Responsible Ministry and the Protection of Minors and Adults has been established and will be meeting in a “few months’ time.”

The 2018 CCCB document Protecting Minors, published last October, was to be the focus of further discussion at the 2019 conference to examine and hear about the initiatives being undertaken to further protect minors.

Some critics of the Canadian Catholic Church’s handling of the abuse of minors met with some bishops the night before the conference started, Winnipeg Archbishop Richard Gagnon confirmed at a press conference. However, he would not go into the details of that meeting. He did say the issue will be discussed in more detail among the bishops.

Gendron outlined the ways in which the Church can further initiatives and new relationships with Indigenous peoples.

“We were recently summoned to this task, confronted with the stories of survivors deeply affected and even traumatized by the sins and sometimes misguided ways of those priests and religious who ran the former Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the government,” he said. 

Issues related to reconciliation with First Nations were discussed over the course of the conference, with an emphasis being put on action and not just words.

An ad hoc committee on palliative care reported that a kit focused on alleviating suffering through palliative care will hopefully be ready by 2021, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said. 

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