Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 22, 2004
CCCB cuts cause controversy
Canon lawyer says bishops' support staff was top heavy
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Recent cuts to the budget of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops are a reaction to the CCCB "growing too large," says a leading canon lawyer.
"It (the CCCB) was becoming top heavy," says Father Frank Morrisey, a professor at the University of Saint Paul in Ottawa. "I think it's too bad it has to go this way, but something had to be done."
However, others see the changes as betraying the original vision that created the CCCB's general secretariat in Ottawa and empowered it with a professional staff to analyze social changes and respond to them.
Bernard Daly, who spent 33 years on staff with the CCCB, calls the restructuring a "unilateral slashing" and wonders how lay Catholics will be able to participate in ongoing debates about the liturgy, the new Mass text in English, and inclusive language without the help of the staff in Ottawa.
The CCCB will cut $800,000 from its operating budget for 2005, resulting in the consolidation of offices at the general secretariat in Ottawa that serve the bishops' commissions. The moves were made to balance the budget, which has been running a deficit every year since 2000.
Morrisey says the CCCB bureaucracy was "growing too large" and the bishops had to show "responsible stewardship."
Even though the Vatican made national bishops' conferences mandatory after Vatican II, ever since the 1960s there's been a debate about exactly what role these conferences play in terms of the authority of the pope and of individual bishops.
Morrisey says that there's controversy over whether the conference itself has a teaching role, or whether that role resides with individual bishops.
"The pope has come down strongly on the side of individual bishops," he says, noting that the conference shouldn't become "like a super bishop."
"The conference is in the service of the bishops, not the bishops at the service of the conference," he said.
Not everyone is as sanguine about the restructuring as Morrisey.
Daly wonders how a national view will be developed on such compelling issues as stem cell research, human cloning, the U.S. missile defence plan, and same sex marriage if more and more staff are "stripped away."
He also points out that before the conference came into being 60 years ago, Canada only had "isolated dioceses," some of them quite small and powerless.
"There have always been a minority in the Church worldwide that see bishops' conferences as a challenge to the pope's central authority," Daly says.
This minority, both inside and outside of Canada, he says, sees bishops' conferences as "not to be trusted" and sees them as trespassing on the authority of bishops in their own dioceses. He wonders how much this view has played a part in the "present difficulties" of the CCCB.
Daly is especially concerned about what the restructuring will do to the CCCB's ecumenical work.
One strength of bishops conferences, he points out, is that it appeals to those churches which are uncomfortable with doctrines of papal infallibility, but would prefer to see strong bishops playing a leadership role, with the pope at their head, rather than bishops playing only a consultative role with the pope.
Daly applauds the transparency of the bishops in areas like abusive priests and residential schools, but wonders why their financial dealings were kept so close to the chest.
"All of a sudden they tell us they have run their conference into serious financial problems, they're going to slash the national services and we 13 million Catholics (in Canada) don't understand why this has happened," he says. "They didn't inform us about it, they didn't try to involve us in the solution."
Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, who ended a term as CCCB general secretary last February, says the CCCB missed an opportunity to reassess its finances in the 2003 plenary assembly when it rejected new ways of financing the conference in favour of the present per capita system.
The per capita charge is kept low, he says, so as not to unduly impact the poorer, smaller dioceses, but that results in a lowest common denominator approach. He says that an additional tax on equity on wealthier dioceses in the "golden triangle" including Toronto and Hamilton might have alleviated the financial pressure.
The richer dioceses are able to pay more and should pay more, "because God has given them more resources," Schonenbach says.
He's concerned the remaining staff at the general secretariat will soon experience burnout.
"You get the services you pay for," he says. "We're not exactly a Third World country."
While people like Daly and Schonenbach see the need for a strong central general secretariat with a professional staff, especially in the light of the many social issues facing the Church, Morrisey sees decentralization as a good thing.
"There's been real pressure to have the Catholic Church recognized as a legal entity in Canada and it's very important that it not be recognized as a legal entity," Morrisey says. "What is recognized in Canada are the different dioceses. The government has given them corporate status.
"It might even be a blessing for the Church not to have that national profile on those issues," he says.
"The Catholic Church is very unified in doctrine and very decentralized on finances, unlike other churches, which have a lot more freedom on doctrine, but all their finances are together," Morrisey says.
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