Canada: New head of CCCB on Amoris Laetitia, apology to First Nations


Bishop Lionel Gendron

Bishop Lionel Gendron

Source: VIS/Vatican Radio

Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil was elected President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at the end of September. Bishop Gendron, who will serve a two-year term, has been vice president of the CCCB since 2015. In an interview with Vatican Radio he reflected on the Catholic Church in Canada and his hopes for the future. Among the subjects he discussed was the implementation of Apostolic Exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' and the Church's response to 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' request for an apology to the First Nations and the question of the residential schools.

Bishop Gendron said one of the highlights of the recent plenary assembly during which he was elected President was the special celebration in the Basilica Cathedral of Ottawa for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation in Canada, during which the country was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

During the plenary, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops came to speak about the Apostolic Exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia.' The Cardinal first held a conference open to journalists and then met privately with the bishops, where he focused mainly on Chapter 8 "and we had a very good sharing among us."

"I would say the Cardinal told us very clearly that there is no theological problem with the encyclical but what is new is the pastoral approach which is described in Chapter 8: accompany, discern and integrate the frailties of the people" he said. He said that the bishops of Canada are in need of pastoral conversion and of institutional conversion as they adapt to this new pastoral approach which, he added, requires time and dedication. "We must find a new balance" he said.

Another important theme at the plenary, Bishop Gendron said, are issues pertaining to the request for an apology by Canada's 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' (TRC) regarding the First Nations and the question of the residential schools, most of which were run by the Catholic, Anglican and United Churches.

Gendron explained that the TRC is asking different things from different Churches and the Catholic Church has been responding. "One of the requests of the TRC is for Pope Francis to visit Canada (within the year) to ask forgiveness for what has been done in the residential schools. "

Bishop Gendron explained that in the late 1880s, the Canadian government decided that the First Nations (Canada's indigenous peoples) should become true Canadians and lose their indigenous culture. Children were taken from their families and put into residential schools where they were not allowed to speak their own language and had no relationship with their families. Many kinds of abuse took place in some of these schools. About five years ago the Commission was established. It has been listening to people throughout Canada who were affected by these schools, and Bishop Gendron said: "we became aware that there has been deep suffering."

Gendron noted that the government had asked the different Churches (The United Church, the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church) to open these schools and so many dioceses and religious communities were involved.

Bishop Gendron said the Church has already given a lot of money and expressed many apologies, but he said time is necessary to ask for the evaluation of the risk of being sued should the Pope decide to come.

The Bishop explained that Pope Francis has been invited by the Commission and that the Canadian bishops have spoken to him about the difficulties involved: "he has encouraged us to keep on doing what we are doing and said that if at a point it is possible, he might come."

He said the issues have also been discussed with Cardinal Parolin, with Archbishop Gallagher and other Vatican officials. He said the discussions had been very open, "Our point of view comes from the requirements not of the TRC, but from the requirements of the Gospel" which he said were "more radical" than the law of the government.

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