For Americans, a look to Canada might give a sense of what Pope Benedict may have in mind for a similar renewal in the United States.
Each year on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, all new metropolitan archbishops travel to Rome to receive the pallium — the woolen band or “yoke” symbolizing their role as shepherds of the flock — from the Holy Father.
This June 29, for the first time in recent memory, there will be no newly-named American bishops among them. But north of the border, there will be a bumper crop of Canadians heading over: new archbishops for Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa, Kingston, Ontario, and the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Alberta.
A sixth new archbishop is already in Rome: Archbishop Michael Miller, until now secretary for the Congregation for Catholic Education, was named June 1 as coadjutor of Vancouver, even though he will not receive the pallium until he succeeds Archbishop Raymond Roussin.
The pace of change is the result of several factors — death in Kingston, illness in Vancouver, transfer in Edmonton — in addition to the normal course of retirements. The result is that the apostolic nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, has managed to refashion the leadership of the Church in English-speaking Canada in the space of the last few months.
Indeed, since his arrival in Canada six years ago, Archbishop Ventura has recommended to the Holy Father appointments in more than two-thirds of Canada’s dioceses.
Canada’s new archbishops, with the exception of Archbishop Richard Smith, the 48-year-old wunderkind in Edmonton, are men in their early 60s who have already had episcopal experience elsewhere. They have all been transferred. The prospect of a single bishop shepherding a diocese for 15-20 years is not the norm.
The new archbishops also share some important personal and pastoral traits. They are all at least conversant with the world of scholarship — having earned doctorates and run schools. The new men are also skilled communicators, open to dealing with the media and unafraid of public controversy. During the Canadian same-sex “marriage” debate, Archbishops Collins and Smith wrote pastoral letters noted for their theological depth, and Archbishop Prendergast testified before the Canadian Parliament on behalf of the Catholic bishops.
There is also a common outreach to youth. That’s good, because a challenge facing all of them will be the question of priestly vocations, which are in quite a desperate state right across the country.
Archbishop Collins in Toronto is already noted for a practice he started in Edmonton, in which he gives out his phone number at the end of Mass and encourages anyone to call if he wants to inquire about a priestly vocation.
With the transfer of Archbishop Prendergast from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Ottawa, and Archbishop O’Brien from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Kingston, there will be two new archbishops for Atlantic Canada by year’s end. (Archbishop Ventura has gained a reputation for not leaving sees vacant for more than six months.)
That means that across the whole of English-speaking Canada, the principal bishops will have changed within two years. It is an unusual phenomenon, and constitutes a new start for the Church in Canada.
Whether that will be Pope Benedict’s model too for the United States remains to be seen.
Father Raymond J. de Souza served as
the Register’s Rome correspondent