Is the Canadian Catholic Church becoming "evangelical"?
John Allen's piece today raises that question with Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto.
NCR: One word that seems to come up in describing the new crop of Canadian bishops, yourself included, is 'evangelical.'
Archbishop Collins: I hope so. One of things I'm talking about in this retreat with priests is St. Paul, preaching the gospel, reaching out. … We've got to be moving out into the secular world. As much as I admire Catholic journals and the Catholic media, I'm reminded that G.K. Chesterton wrote in the Illustrated London News. Later he wrote for a Catholic weekly, but most of his life was out in the secular world. We've got to do what we can in-house, we have to look at the gathered, but we've got to look at the scattered as well.
NCR: Part of what people mean by calling you 'evangelical' is a willingness to challenge the prevailing secular consensus.
Archbishop Collins: Oh, absolutely. … This is a very secular society, definitely not the United States. In Canada, there's a strong push among the ruling elite to address the issue of a multicultural and multi-religious society by saying, "Let us drain the public forum of all religion." The secular society would thus not really be the society of this age, which is what it should be, but a society drained of anything. It's iconic that after 9/11, in the country where it actually happened, everybody went to a cathedral where the president and religious leaders prayed. In the country to the north, which also lost people, the event was held on Parliament Hill, with nary a reference to God. I wasn't there, but somebody told me that the only hymn was "Imagine," an atheist hymn. We're all conscious of the Swiss Air tragedy. [In 1998, a Swiss Air flight crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people on board.] After that tragedy, there was a "God-free" public service. That's one alternative [for a multicultural society], and I think it's absolutely wrong-headed.
NCR: So the new Canadian bishops are determined to push back?
Archbishop Collins: I think so. We've had enough. We're here, and we're part of this society. As I often point out, if someone's vulnerable and on the street in Toronto, it's someone motivated by religion who's going to help them. We're there on the street, we walk the talk. Therefore, we have a place at the table. We've earned it, quite apart from the fact that all but 16 percent of the Canadian population claims some sort of religious affiliation, at least when approached by the census. I think the idea that the solution to a multiethnic, multi-religious, multicultural society is to deny the profound reality in the lives of the vast majority of the population, which is religion, is just bizarre. Why should we sit here and let that happen? I'm not talking about replacing this model with a theocracy. Obviously we've had that in history. The church is always healthiest when it's not in power, so I'm not recommending that. We should not be in power, but we're here, and we have a right to speak.
NCR: To what extent is this evangelical spirit present at the grass roots?
Archbishop Collins: I feel extraordinary hope. I had this hilarious experience last year, after I had just ordained six guys to the priesthood. We were outside going around taking photographs in a little courtyard beside the church. This reporter came up to me, looking soulfully into my eyes, and asked me to talk about the failure of people to respond to vocations to the priesthood and the disaster looming over the church. I said, "Well, I just ordained six of them. Talk to them, they're over there." He said, "But what about the failure and the falling apart of the church, people drifting away?" That's just not my reality. Sure, those things are real, but it's not the whole story.
NCR: It sounds like you're trying to project a robust Catholic identity, but one that's outward-looking rather than moving into a ghetto.
Archbishop Collins: Definitely not a ghetto. We're part of the society. We're good friends with all our neighbors of many faiths, and with the secularists too. …I think we should engage in hearty discussions with all kinds of people.
More Bishops like this, please. Love the fact that Archbishop Collins clearly understands the term "evangelical" in its Biblical sense and gladly claims it as Catholic without the slightest hesitancy.