By Sr Berndette Mary Reis, fsp
Covid-19 and its consequences on parish, community belonging and family life are helping Canadian bishops understand the path forward toward rebuilding. These and other lessons learned from the past through listening circles with indigenous peoples and their journey through providing protection to minors were the foundation of topics for the Canadian Bishops' Plenary assembly.
More than 80 Bishops making up the Canadian Bishops’ Conference (CCCB) gathered online this past week in a first-ever virtual plenary meeting. Christopher Wells spoke with the president of the CCCB, Archbishop Richard Gagnon.
Bishops representing Canada’s four episcopal regions presented a report to their brother bishops regarding how Covid-19 is affecting their region. They discussed the challenges, the hopes and how “the Church has been coping with it”.
“The Church demonstrates a lot of creativity”, Archbishop Gagnon says, despite the suffering and difficulties people are facing. He said the Church has learned new ways of communicating and about the role of the domestic church. Many parishes, he said, “are now live streaming on a regular basis”.
Rebuilding after the pandemic
“The rebuilding of communities” will be one of the first priorities after the pandemic, Archbishop Gagnon points out. Many people will have lost physical contact with their parishes and may have become used to live-streamed Masses. This will mean rebuilding and emphasizing the importance of community, he continued. “Even with a vaccine, it will take a long time for people to start connecting with their parish communities in person”.
This rebuilding, however, has to take into consideration the lessons learned during the lockdown: the “importance of the domestic church – that parents are the first teachers of the children in the ways of the faith – the lessons about living our faith under difficulty, the lessons of the family in these times of the pandemic, the lessons of the importance of community, and finally of how important the sacramental life is”.
“So we are learning on a daily basis how to move forward and trying to plan for a rebuilding of our communities.”
One of the “wake-up calls” the Archbishop draws attention to is “how sometimes the secular authorities, the governments, overlook the faith communities and don’t always consult with them in decision-making”. In a secular age, he says, this is something worthy considering.
Other topics discussed
One of the decisions made during the Plenary was to ove the Catholic Organization for Life in the Family, operating until now at the diocesan level, and incorporate it within the structure of the CCCB.
An initiative undertaken to listen to the indigenous peoples in Canada was also discussed. Listening circles have provided indigenous peoples, Church leaders and Bishops the opportunity to share experiences and the wounds sustained in the past. The goal is “walking together into the future”, the Archbishop states. Several “future major national initiatives are being planned in collaboration with indigenous to leadership in Canada. And there is a very good sense of walking together with important leaders of indigenous groups in Canada.” These groups included the “First Nations people, the Inuit people of the north, and also the Métis people in Canada”.
Updated guidelines addressing sexual misconduct by members of the clergy were published in 2018 by the CCCB, entitled Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation. “The efforts throughout Canada to bring longstanding protocols and guidelines that deal with the question of sexual misconduct and abuse into line with the new guidelines produced by the CCCB is an ongoing work in Canada. The standing committee encourages and assists the implementation of these new guidelines and aligning what came before with them”.
Pope Francis’s solidarity
Lastly, Archbishop Gagnon said the Bishops united in Plenary received a letter from Pope Francis.
“He expressed his solidarity with them, his closeness to us, his prayers are with us, he’s aware of the topics we’ve been discussing. That’s very encouraging to receive his blessing and his prayers.”