The Plenary Assembly, April 18, 1969
The bishops of Canada in plenary assembly take cognizance of the report of the special committee appointed to discuss what steps should follow the statement of the Canadian Catholic Conference in Winnipeg, September 27, 1968, concerning Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter, On Human Life1
This committee composed of two bishops, a number of priests, religious and lay persons, after serious study and deliberation have summarized their recommendation as follows:
1. that the Canadian Catholic Conference gives its utmost support and encouragement to marriage preparation programs -- short of recommending that they be compulsory for Church marriages;
2. that the Canadian Catholic Conference recommend to priests, family movements and other interested Church members the possibility of an "apostolate to new parents";
3. that the Canadian Catholic Conference initiate a study of the theology of marriage in today's world;
4. that the Canadian Catholic Conference strongly support family life education in the school as a supplement to parental efforts, with particular stress on the need for adequate preparation of teachers for such classroom courses.
We are pleased to accept these resolutions and to make them our own. We request our Administrative Board and Executive Committee to see to their implementation.
In this context we wish to express our conviction that the present concern and preoccupation with the problems of marriage can best be met by the positive approach recommended by our committee.
At the same time we cannot close our eyes or our minds to the reaction of a certain segment of the public, both within our communion and outside it, which appears to have distorted to some degree our pastoral application of the encyclical On Human Life.
Nothing could be gained and much lost by any attempt to rephrase our Winnipeg statement. We stand squarely behind that position but we feel it our duty to insist on a proper interpretation of the same.
In particular we feel that our teaching on freedom of conscience and the role of the magisterium, the authentic teaching authority of the Church, has not always been accurately reflected.
Consequently we wish to reiterate our positive conviction that a Catholic Christian is not free to form his conscience without consideration of the teaching of the magisterium, in the particular instance exercised by the Holy Father in an encyclical letter. It is false and dangerous to maintain that because this encyclical has not demanded "the absolute assent of faith", 2 any Catholic may put it aside as if it had never appeared. On the contrary, such teaching in some ways imposes a great burden of responsibility on the individual conscience.
The Catholic knows that he or she may not dissent from teaching proposed as infallible. With regard to such teaching one may seek only to understand, to appreciate, to deepen one's insights.
In the presence of other authoritative teaching, exercised either by the Holy Father or by the collectivity of the bishops one must listen with respect, with openness and with the firm conviction that a personal opinion, or even the opinion of a number of theologians, ranks very much below the level of such teaching. The attitude must be one of desire to assent, a respectful acceptance of truth which bears the seal of God's Church.
In order that this matter of Christian attitude to the transmission of life be not further distorted, we believe that this whole question will best be studied and situated in the large context of the formation of responsible conscience in general. We recommend that studies along these lines be initiated at soon as possible by the Canadian Catholic Conference.