|Incoming Junior Bishop Collins 1997|
But what is actually revealed in that article speaks much more loudly to the current malaise of pseudo-catholicism in Toronto. Read the report below and ask yourself if the Cardinal is likely to have the fortitude and character necessary to stand up to the heretics and dissenters at the upcoming Synod on the Family. Can a leopard change its spots?
Edmonton's New Catholic Archbishop May Disappoint Hopeful Conservatives
Observers of Roman Catholic politics say Pope John Paul II's greatest legacy may turn out to be his ability to shift the church back to its orthodox roots by appointing conservative bishops. So with the imminent retirement on April 15 of Edmonton Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, a man long identified with the liberal wing of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, conservatives anticipated it was their turn for a replacement more in tune with traditional beliefs and practices.
When the Pope announced on February 18 that he had appointed St. Paul Bishop Thomas Collins to replace Archbishop MacNeil, it appeared conservative prayers were answered. Known for his devotional life and orthodox convictions, Bishop Collins raised hopes among the capital region's 295,000 Catholics that he would reverse the decline in priestly candidates and thereby avoid Archbishop MacNeil's plan to close half of the area's 162 parishes and missions.
But old acquaintance David Curtin, a Toronto journalist who at seminary had Bishop Collins as a professor and spiritual director, warns Edmonton Catholics not to hope for too much. Bishop Collins is a great teacher and friend, Mr. Curtin says, but he has a history of accommodating the church's liberal wing.
Bishop Collins is well known in Canada as a teacher and scholar. The 52-year-old entered the priesthood in 1973. In 1986 he earned his theology doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome. He was rector of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., prior to becoming bishop of St. Paul in 1997.
In his new responsibility Bishop Collins will be challenged to succeed where his predecessor has stalled. "Bishop Collins inherits a wonderful archdiocese," says Archbishop MacNeil. But he admits the priest shortage will be the new leader's greatest challenge. "We are reaching a point that's causing real concern," he says. "But if Jesus wants more priests, he will provide them."
Father Sylvain Casavan, a member of the Edmonton archdiocese vocations team, expects the new archbishop to take a less passive approach. "[Bishop Collins] said when he went to St. Paul that his goal was 50 new priests," he says. "I wouldn't mind seeing 50 candidates here, too."
Writing in the Catholic newsletter The Trumpet, editor and former Edmontonian Mark Toth warns that the new archbishop will also have to deal with the lack of leadership which has resulted in deterioration of Edmonton Catholic schools. "A whole generation of children attending Catholic schools has been deprived of their right to be instructed in their Catholic faith," he writes. "What a heavy burden for a bishop to have such a thing happen on his watch!"
For his part, Bishop Collins has indicated he is ready to deal with Edmonton's problems. He did not return calls from this magazine. But in an interview with the Western Catholic Reporter he said that in his view there are five to 10 people called to ministry in each parish who will respond positively if simply asked to consider the religious life. And through a series of Reporter articles on prayer, Bishop Collins has signalled that unlike his predecessor, who remained largely out of sight, he will focus his pastoral leadership on spiritual matters, and see and be seen.
Nevertheless, those who know Bishop Collins best question whether he is tough enough to force a new course in Edmonton. "He's a talented, prayerful and orthodox man," says journalist Curtin. "His fundamental theology course was the best in the seminary program."
But Mr. Curtin fears the new archbishop may not stand up to liberal dissenters in his new archdiocesan bureaucracy. "When I saw him exercise his authority most firmly," he says, "it was actually to clamp down on orthodox Catholics who were speaking out against real abuses." Mr. Curtin cites an example. "When the student liturgy committee passed a resolution against illicit, feminist changes in the Mass," he reports, "[Then Fr. Collins] overruled the resolution. The minutes of the meeting were recalled and all record of the resolution was erased."
Furthermore, Mr. Curtin reports, in 1995, when Cardinal Ratzinger said the church's teaching on women's ordination is infallible, some students wept openly, while others were gratified that the church had finally spoken definitively. "Fr. Collins' only public response," Mr. Curtin says, "was to issue an unprecedented condemnation of the 'triumphalistic' attitudes of the seminarians who were happy about the statement."
As a former seminarian, Mr. Curtin does not question his mentor's dedication to orthodox Catholic doctrine. "He seemed to understand the problems caused by heterodoxy in the church," says Mr. Curtin. "But when push came to shove, he resorted to platitudes about how dissenters 'mean well.' He seemed to think that effective intervention would do more harm than good."