Quebec enters new era as two new bishops ordained

  • September 14, 2011

MONTREAL - When Montreal Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd came to the microphone after his Sept. 10  ordination, he paused, his smartphone in hand, pressed “Send,” and announced: “I just updated my Twitter account: It’s official. I’m a bishop.”

One day shy of his 41st birthday when Montreal Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte ordained him, Dowd already had established himself as a blogging priest, adept in social media and the new evangelization. His blog and Twitter account now follow his service in the episcopate.

Turcotte also ordained Auxiliary Bishop Christian Lepine, 59.

These latest ordinations represent part of a sea change in the Quebec episcopacy as a large cohort of bishops in the province have reached or will soon reach the retirement age of 75.

For McGill University historian John Zucchi, many in this cohort shared a similar reading of the Second Vatican Council and a nationalist vision that rooted them in the Church of the 1970s.

“That kind of vision, which I think has been very much there in the background over the last generation, is slowly going to dissipate or disappear,” he said.

What has been absent since the Quiet Revolution “has been the Church as a protagonist” in the wider society,.  “The bishops have been quite silent; they often said things that society likes to hear, but often have not said things that run counterculture.”

The “don’t rock the boat” strategy has meant the distinct voice of the Church in the public square has often been missing, Zucchi said.

“This will probably be one change we’re beginning to see already and that will probably continue into the future.”

The changes continue: on Sept. 11, former Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal Andre Gazaille was installed in the Nicolet diocese. On Sept. 29, Valleyfield Bishop Luc Cyr will be installed as Sherbrooke’s archbishop. Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ebacher is expected to retire in October; and Turcotte himself reached retirement age in June but is expected to stay on for the near future.

“The bishop, who becomes a pastor like Jesus, thinks big and sees the big picture. He has a heart open to the world,” Turcotte said in his ordination homily. “Like Jesus, and in His footsteps, he is a man of the future and not of the past. He does not turn his back to the culture of the day. He examines it and he loves it, seeking to discern in it the presence and signs of the Holy Spirit.”

In the past, bishops may have chosen a different method of speaking to the culture by finding ways to address principles through scientific data or sociology, but Zucchi thinks Quebec society is ready “to be surprised by someone who speaks from a very simple position of faith.”

“I think we’ve come to the point where a lot of the ideological debates in the general population are past and people simply are looking for something truly new in their lives and are ready to be surprised by something truly new.”

Zucchi noted that Turcotte and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, when he was Quebec archbishop, both crossed the linguistic and cultural divide and reached out beyond a more insular vision of the Church. Some of the older Quebec bishops had been more “closed in” and focused on internal Quebec concerns and had “less of an openness to outside influences because of these concerns.”

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