Canadian religious challenge church attitudes

Representatives of more than 200 Canadian religious orders have written to the Canadian bishops, criticising the church for being rigid on sexual morals and the role of women in the church.

Catholic News Service reports that the 26-page letter from the Canadian Religious Conference addressed to the Canadian bishops criticised the church for being rigid on sexual morals and unwelcoming to homosexuals, having a "clerical mentality" and being unwilling to give women decision-making roles.

The letter also said it regretted the bishops' lack of independence from the Vatican.

"We hope that our church will position itself closer to the major issues of the world: impoverishment, inequalities, rights and roles of women, defence of the disenfranchised, respect for the environment and the safeguarding of humanity," the religious said in the letter.

But one Canadian church leader said compassion must be balanced with high ideals or the church risks putting aside the Gospel.

"If we push aside the Gospel, well what are we going to become?" asked Bishop Gilles Cazabon of Saint-Jerome, Quebec, president of the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops.

"We are going to become a people gathered around a very vague doctrine, with no specific identity, and I would say with no impact on humanity as such."

The Canadian Religious Conference letter was written in advance of the bishops' "ad limina" visits to the Vatican this year. Heads of diocese makes such visits every five years to report on the status of their dioceses.

The letter was based on a survey to which 60 percent of 230 religious congregations responded. It was leaked to a Montreal newspaper before being posted on the Canadian Religious Conference website.

"The document was meant to be a personal dialogue with our bishops and was not to be debated in public," said Franciscan Sister Louise Stafford, a Canadian Religious Conference spokesperson who stressed that the congregations responded to the survey "in a spirit of Christian collegiality."

In a telephone interview, Bishop Cazabon said he welcomed the collegial spirit of the letter and understood well the concerns of religious because he is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

However, Bishop Cazabon said in response to criticisms about the bishops' independence: "we as bishops, we are members of the college of bishops, and the head of this college is the pope. So we always try to accomplish our ministry with our brother bishops and with the pope.

"Now when it comes to the culture of different countries, we have to take in account where the people are at, we have to accompany them and we have to give ourselves the ecclesiastical structures that enable us to accomplish our ministry," he said.

"So, I feel as a bishop I have the autonomy to do what I can do and what I should do within the general framework of the church, and I'm happy to work within that."

Canadian religious criticise church on sexual morals, gays, women (NZ Catholic/Catholic News Service)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Canadian Religious Conference | Media Release: In a Spirit of Openness, Dialogue and Trust (9/3/06)

Canadian religious leadership questions Church teachings (Catholic World News 9/3/06)

10 Mar 2006