Challenging secularism

  • September 13, 2011

Thomas Dowd became the second youngest bishop in the world last week when, a day before his 41st birthday, he was ordained along with Christian Lépine as auxiliary bishop to the archdiocese of Montreal.

Dowd is affectionately known as the “Blogfather” because, for the past eight years, he has incorporated the Internet into his ministry. He is credited as Canada’s first priest to maintain a regular blog, and intends to keep blogging from his bishop’s office. As he said in a recent interview, he can’t give Communion over the Internet but he can build communion through digital technology.

“The Church is fundamentally a communication organization,” he said. “Jesus was a communicator par excellence. As a communication body, we need to use the latest and greatest ways to pass on the Good News.”

Dowd’s appointment comes at a time when the province of Quebec needs good communicators more than ever. Once the most staunchly Catholic province in Canada, it is now the most secular. About 80 per cent of  Quebec Catholics no longer practise their faith. Marriage rates are low, divorce rates are high. Religion has been scrubbed from the workplace and schools. Historic churches are being renovated into condos.

Dowd’s ordination has received considerable attention because of his youth and fondness for digital communication. The assumption is that he is well equipped to relate to a young, lost generation of Catholics in the jargon and medium they understand. That may be true, but more important is the message he will deliver.

Dowd and Lépine are the first new bishops ordained in Quebec since Cardinal Marc Ouellet was elevated to the position last summer of Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, the third most senior position in the Vatican. So Dowd and Lépine, though appointed by the Pope, were no doubt nominated by Ouellet. That is significant because Ouellet, when he was the archbishop of Quebec City, was one of very few bishops to publicly challenge the tenacious, sometimes obsessive, government-sponsored secularism that  permeates Quebec society.

The Quebec Church lost its most ardent defender when Ouellet was promoted to the Vatican. But the tradeoff is that, in his Vatican office and presumably encouraged by the Pope, the cardinal can gradually infuse the Quebec Church with more bishops who are inspired to challenge the secularist shift in Quebec society and begin the hard work of reversing it.

Dowd and Lépine represent the first wave of that new vanguard. Their task will not be easy, success will not be quick. The faith of an entire generation of Quebecers has been marked by religious indifference, if not hostility. The new bishops are called to not only deliver an evangelical message but, as the Blogfather will attest, communicate it effectively.

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