Editorial: What we’ve become

  • February 23, 2023

As he steps into retirement at 76 with the Toronto archdiocese and, indeed, Catholics across Canada recognizing his remarkable leadership, Cardinal Thomas Collins leaves in the air a question at once riveting, chilling and Lenten.

It is not the question of succession. Montreal auxiliary Bishop Frank Leo, who will be installed Archbishop of Toronto on March 25, brings a stellar resumé to justify his rapid rise through the ecclesial ranks. As Archbishop, Leo might find that the volume of administrative responsibility and leadership demands will occasionally make heavy the head that wears the mitre. Yet his capabilities in previous roles brings confidence the country’s largest archdiocese will move ahead smartly under him.

No, the question Cardinal Collins leaves us with as he relinquishes his crozier came in four words he spoke at his annual dinner last year. They were off-script and delivered with a sombreness marking someone in a mode of self-reflection as much as exhortation.

“What,” he asked, orally breaking stride, “have we become?”

Though delivered in November, they are intensely Lenten in demanding we answer for making existential ashes of the glorious gift of being created in the image of God. Their immediate catalyst was the prospect of mentally ill Canadians being “granted equality” to receive medically-delivered homicide. We do the Cardinal a disservice, however, by refusing to see that specific health care horror is a marker, not the source, of the darkness around us. 

With our failure to democratically admonish the embarrassing self-indulgences of those who pose as our leaders, and in our blind eyes to the slithering evil of our monstrous culture of death, we are worse than “poor banished children of Eve.” We are rubberneckers at the foot of the Cross gawp-mouthed by the spectacle. 

The mayor of Toronto behaves like a 68-year-old satyr with an underling 37 years his junior during a plague requiring the lockdown of our lives. John Tory at least showed grace resigning. But the lotus eaters of the broader media-political world murmured: “Ummm… it was only for pleasure. No one hurt. Pass the budget, please.” 

No one hurt? By employer-employee adultery? Truly? And pass the budget? Oh, the one delivered by the publicly confessed prevaricator and philanderer? What have we become when that is sufficient ground for civic leadership? Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But wrong isn’t made right by moral ennui.

Such conversion comes only from honestly admitting the abyss we have become by, for example, agreeing to live as a polis in which a Parliamentary committee can justify medical killing of children (despite the government at least delaying homicide for the mentally ill)  through some manufactured “right” that everyone with a soul understands as a morally repulsive wrong. 

We cannot change all this overnight. But we have days ahead in the desert to ponder the Cardinal’s four words about why we must start.

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