Bishops are designated by the diocese entrusted to their care: I am the bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, my neighbours are the bishops of Valleyfield and Ogdensburg as well as the archbishops of Kingston and Ottawa. However, a bishop’s responsibilities do not end at the borders of his diocese: he also shares in the care of the Church throughout the world. This principle was embodied in a famous passage of the Constitution on the Church promulgated by the Second Vatican Council nearly fifty years ago. It reads: “The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church. But each of them, as a member of the episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles, is obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church”
This care for the broader Church is expressed in a particularly concrete way by the existence of national Episcopal conferences. Major countries with a sufficient numbers of bishops possess such national conferences, Canada being one of them. Smaller countries will join with others to form regional conferences.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops grew out of the Canadian Catholic Conference, established in 1943 and officially recognized by the Holy See in 1948. Its name was changed to the present form in 1977 to better express its reality as an association of bishops. It has no power over its members and individual bishops do not account to it for their work. It is rather an association that allows bishops in a country to collaborate on common issues and to develop shard strategies in view of national realities.
Through the work of its members, the Conference is involved in matters of national and international scope in areas such as ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, theology, social justice, aid to developing countries, the protection of human life, liturgy, communications and Christian education. The Conference also provides the Bishops with a forum where they can share their experience and insights on the life of the Church and the major events that shape our society.
The Plenary Assembly, held once a year and gathering all the bishops of the country, holds supreme authority in the Conference. Every second year, it elects a dozen bishops to form the Permanent Council which governs the Conference between meetings of the Plenary. Four of those bishops form the Executive Committee which is entrusted with directing the ongoing work of the staff. I have been a member of this Executive Committee for the past four years as one of two co-treasurers, and will be presented to the Plenary this October as the nominee for the position of vice-president.
In the Ottawa offices of the CCCB, a staff of about 40 people – laypersons, priests and religious – is at the service of the bishops, while the “Office National de Liturgie de la CECC” is located in Montreal. The staff is supervised by Msgr. Patrick Powers, General Secretary of the CCCB.
In the coming weeks, I will use this space to present in greater detail the organization of the Conference, its concerns and its plans for the future. This will allow readers to have a better understanding of the active presence of the Catholic Church within Canada and the collaborative spirit with which its bishops lead the Church in our country.