OTTAWA (CCN) — As debate continues on Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Marc Ouellet will speak on the document at the Canadian bishops’ annual plenary Sept. 25 - 29 in Cornwall, Ont.
The Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, one of the highest-ranking prelates in the Vatican, was among those who upheld the traditional doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church regarding communion for the divorced and remarried during the two synods on the family 2014 - 2015 that led to Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
Since Amoris Laetitia’s publication, Ouellet has defended the document. In 2016, speaking to the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention in Toronto, he urged the Knights to read and reread the document slowly and prayerfully, especially its Chapter 4 on love.
“In all honesty, I think that controversies around Amoris Laetitia are understandable, but, in all confidence, I believe they might even be fruitful in the end,” Ouellet told the Knights.
He also defended the document in a book Famille, deviens ce que tu es (Family, become what you are) published in August 2016, arguing Amoris Laetitia is in line with the church’s constant teaching, including its controversial Chapter Eight dealing with the pastoral care of fragile famiiles, and its famous footnote that seems to open the way to communion for the divorced and remarried not living as brother and sister. Ouellet argued the document does not make any changes in what has already been part of the church’s discipline.
Ouellet, who is also president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, is archbishop-emeritus of Quebec and former primate of Canada from 2002 - 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to his present role, assisting the pope in the selection of bishops to serve the universal church.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued a response to Amoris Laetitia. The bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories issued guidelines to Chapter Eight, interpretiing Amoris Laetitia in line with the previous teaching and discipline of the church. Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast adopted these guidelines for his diocese. Bishop Scott McCaig of the Military Ordinariate also issued guidelines, taking a conservative approach as well. Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a diocese-like structure for former Anglicans in North America, did the same.
Several bishops’ conferences, including those in Argentina, Germany, and Malta have taken a much more liberal interpretation of Chapter Eight. The silence of the CCCB and various regional assemblies may indicate division in Canada.
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau recently told a Theology on Tap in Ottawa that he was “very split” in the issue of communion for the divorced and remarried after listening to arguments from both sides during both synods. Durocher said he believed Pope Francis wanted to set a process in motion in deliberately leaving the issue ambiguous.
“My feeling is that he wants to see where the Spirit will lead the church in this,” Durocher said in Ottawa July 20. “Obviously this has led to controversy in the church and areas of strong opinions that were expressed.”
“There are still strong opinions, and the pope is saying ‘That’s OK, we’re adults, we can continue discussing this, we can continue having strong opinions on this and seek what God’s will is’ so that’s where we are.”
The annual gathering of the CCCB will mark a number of anniversaries, including Canada’s 150th birthday.
On Sept. 26 the bishops will travel to Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral to re-consecrate Canada to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Many bishops consecrated their dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 1, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of Canada; others have chosen other dates later in the year of significance in their dioceses.
The mass at Notre Dame will also include a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace — Caritas Canada, the Canadian bishops’ overseas development agency.
“As far as the Development and Peace Golden Jubilee goes, its establishment is one of the great legacies to our Canadian church by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council who wished to make their own the plight of the local churches whose shepherds and their concerns they got to know through interactions during the Council,” Prendergast said. “Because D&P’s foundation took place in Canada’s capital, it is appropriate to observe that milestone here.”
“The world has changed so much in the past half century and collaboration with partners in the Global South presents us with new challenges,” the archbishop said. “I believe the Canadian church and Development and Peace are up to them as the leaders of both the church and Development and Peace continually review funding projects to make sure they conform to the church’s teaching on justice, development and peace, without thereby excluding from consideration the key principle of the protection of life from conception to natural death.”
The plenary will also mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with an ecumenical prayer service. Co-presiding with Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg will be Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. They co-chair a Lutheran and Catholic working group that has published resources for Canadians to prayerfully reflect on the past 500 years, in thanksgiving for efforts toward reconciliation, and in prayers for pardon where efforts have fallen short of the unity Christ desires.
The bishops will hear a presentation on human trafficking, with contributions from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Santa Martha Group and institutes of religious life, particularly women religious.
Also on the agenda: a pastoral approach to inter-religious dialogue with Islam; and a view of the Middle East from the perspective of persecuted Christians.
Bishop Douglas Crosby will chair the assembly for the second and last time, as his two-year term as president will end, as does that of other members of the executive committee and the CCCB’s Permanent Council. The bishops will elect new members to these positions during the plenary.
Salt + Light TV will broadcast the CCCB president’s address, the daily liturgies and daily news briefings live online and on television, as Canada’s Catholic television channel has for the past five years.