Notice
Here follows the text of the message presented to the Executive Committee of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops by Catholics of Vision: Canada, on August 28, 1997, following the completion of the signature campaign.


"It is now only dawn"
(John XXIII) 


A Message to the

Canadian Catholic Bishops

from
Catholics of Vision: Canada

CONTENTS



PREAMBLE

Our symbol of the dawn breaking recalls the words addressed by Pope John XXIII to the world's Bishops at the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962: The Council was marked by a collegial and pastoral orientation, and raised the expectation that eventually a similar orientation would characterize the Church at all levels. However, this expectation has yet to be realized. Instead, we have seen large numbers leave the Church. Equally large numbers no longer attend regularly. In Canada vocations have declined and issues which have surfaced since the Council are creating serious divisions among the People of God. The focus on polarized reactions to issues detracts from the "good news" which should be the central, visible manifestation of our Church.

We see a serious crisis developing in the Church in Canada, and indeed throughout the world. Our desire to address this crisis prompted us to accept our responsibility as adult People of God, and to act. We seek to collaborate with our sister and brother Catholics -- bishops, priests and laity -- to address those issues which, unresolved, are dividing the Church.

We were encouraged by the new spirit of renewal evident in the signature collecting campaigns undertaken initially in Austria and Germany and since spreading to all continents of the globe. We wished to give Canadian Catholics an opportunity to articulate their hopes for the future of the Church and to identify those issues which, for many, now serve as obstacles to living a fully Christian life.

In our campaign preparations we were inspired continually by the teachings contained in the two great foundation documents of the Second Vatican Council: "The Constitution on the Church" (Lumen Gentium) and "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes). We learn from these teachings that the Church is, in Christ, a sacrament or instrumental sign of union with God and of unity with all humanity. The Council Fathers stated that "it is quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society." (L..G. #40) The Council also stated that "hope in a life to come does not take away from the importance of the duties of this life on earth, but rather, adds to it by giving new motives for fulfilling those duties." (G.S. #21)

Our aim has been to foster open and constructive discussion. In a spirit of dialogue rather than confrontation we attempted to gather signatures throughout the country. Our campaign was conducted in both official languages between the Feast of Epiphany and the Feast of Pentecost, 1997, and our message was addressed to the Canadian Bishops.

In our attempt to accurately "read the signs of the times" we have listened to a large number of Catholics in Canada. We believe that the first step to resolving the crisis is to begin to dialogue about those important issues which are not being discussed. A forum which encourages everyone to come forward and to speak without fear is required. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council we present this report to the Canadian Bishops with high expectations of engaging in continuing "aggiornamento" (updating) of the Church. 


DEVELOPMENT OF THE VISION STATEMENT

The Vision Statement is a Canadian document developed after wide consultation with Canadian Catholics. The issues identified have been raised at many Canadian synods and are similar to those voiced in other countries.

The format which was finally approved moves from generalized hopes for the future (numbers 1 and 2) through specific, divisive issues which require dialogue for resolution (numbers 3,4 and 5) to a desire for a more collegial governing structure (number 6).

The format adopted sometimes tended to inhibit responsiveness because it required inclusive endorsement. Often disagreement with a single point led to rejection of the whole Statement. Many lacked theological understanding of certain contentious issues required for an informed assent. In these cases deference to authority was often a substitute for understanding. 


DISTRIBUTION PROCESS

The Catholics of Vision: Canada (CVC) office opened in Ottawa on October 31, 1996 to co ordinate volunteers, distribute the statement and record returns. Approximately 10,000 copies of the vision statement were distributed from the office. 7000 of these were printed in English; 3000 in French. Some were mailed to persons who had volunteered to act as area coordinators; the remainder were mailed to individuals who had signed the statement with an invitation to gather more signatures.

Financial limitations prevented the printing of the statement in major Canadian newspapers. To the best of our knowledge three Catholic papers The Prairie Messenger, The Island Catholic News and the Catholic New Times printed the statement as did two secular papers -- the Regina Free Press and the Markham Economist and Sun. Also, newsletters published by "Corpus", the "Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics" and the "Catholic Network for Women's Equality" included copies of the statement.

Both the Statement and the Briefing Notes were placed on the internet, and in the Ottawa area the statement was mailed directly to 2000 separate school supporters. In some parts of the country, e.g.: Sudbury, Vancouver, St. John's, Markham, Bragg Creek and Calgary, panel discussions and/or public meetings were vehicles of distribution. Two peaceful demonstrations -- Ottawa and Toronto -- provided opportunities to hand out the statement.

With few exceptions, parishes were not available to us to publicize or distribute the Vision Statement. It should be noted that CVC did not approach high school or university students. We did not make any special effort to reach non practicing Catholics. We did not solicit support from those who are not Catholics.

Reports from area leaders indicate that small group discussions and personal networking were the most commonly used means of gathering signatures. Obviously, coverage across Canada was spotty at best, determined largely by the availability and efforts of local individuals. 


ASSESSMENT OF THE PROCESS

1. The effectiveness of a campaign of this type depends on three major factors: leadership, communication and resources.

2. Opposition had a negative impact on the campaign.

3. There were strengths in the campaign process.

CAMPAIGN RESULTS

Five thousand, nine hundred and ten (5,910) persons signed the Statement entitled "Our Vision of a Renewed Church."

In addition to the signed Statements the C.V.C. office received 276 letters. Of these 74% affirmed the initiative, 15% were requests for additional information and 22% opposed the Vision Statement. Twenty-eight percent of the letters of opposition could be classified as hate mail.

We must evaluate the strengths mentioned on the previous page as positive results of the campaign. Acceptance of responsibility and empowerment of people are signs of hope for the future.

Finally, we were privileged to become a listening post for so many personal stories of suffering and pain. The awareness thus gained moves us to continued action. We gained insight into the undeniable need for adult education with our Church communities. We experienced the fear operative in many Catholics. And our awareness of the drive for power and domination exhibited by fundamentalist Catholics has been heightened. 


SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESPONSE

Those aware of the resources and logistics required for a national survey should see the level of response to the vision statement as an achievement, given the limitations and obstacles outlined above. Any contention that the 5,910 responses indicate minimal support for the substance of the statement must be rejected. The response should be seen in the context of a wide range of survey research and polling data that address similar positions.

This year Greeley and Hout surveyed five European countries and the United States to ascertain support for change and reform in the Church. Several items are directly parallel to those in the vision statement, e.g.: married priests, ordination of women and election of Bishops. Their findings indicate strong support for these items among Catholics in Spain, Italy, Ireland and the United States. [Surveys on equivalent items do exist for Canada, especially those conducted by Reginald Bibby.(Fragmented Gods, Toronto: Irwin, 1987: and Unknown Gods, Toronto: Stoddard,1993.) These indicate strong support by Catholics for some of the more contentious items.

Surveys such as these aim at representativeness allowing for generalizations to the whole Catholic population. Respondents to the vision statement do not constitute such a representative sample. However, they point to the existence of a strong desire to be heard, emerging from an important segment of the Catholic community.

Nor should we ignore the fact that Canadian diocesan synod discussions raise similar issues and point to a similar desire to be heard. 


FINANCE OF THE C.V.C. CAMPAIGN

The C.V.C. campaign was financed entirely by voluntary contributions. Recognizing the economic difficulties of so many in our country today, we asked people to contribute "if and what they could." Because all activities were conducted by volunteers, the moneys available were adequate to the tasks undertaken but inadequate to conduct a more intensive campaign.

WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

A picture of the Catholic Church in Canada emerges from the letters, phone calls, interviews, talk shows, press articles and reports from area leaders. We have summarized below what we have heard and learned: We have also learned that:

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Since there is a need for dialogue at all levels within the Canadian Catholic Church -- local, regional and national -- CVC recommends: 2. Because many Catholics in Canada believe that the Bishops have too often abdicated their role as leaders of our Canadian Church, CVC recommends: 3. Because so many Catholics have little knowledge of conciliar documents, social justice teachings--universal and Canadian--and contextualized Biblical scholarship, CVC recommends: Certainly members of CVC across Canada are more than willing to help and/or cooperate with initiatives flowing from these recommendations. 

CLOSING STATEMENT

We thank you for receiving us to dialogue on our campaign and its findings. Although none of us is "gifted with being able to foretell the future" we are encouraged by the words of Ottawa's Archbishop Marcel Gervais, who said "the model of Church that will last is that of co-responsibility with the laity." We assess our initiative as a first, small step toward that model, and as a sign of hope to many Canadian Catholics.


28 August 1997
HTML version Copyright © Ingrid Shafer 1997