Every year is a collection of beginnings. In 2012 we began to pray a new English translation of the Mass. We began to call Toronto’s Archbishop Thomas Collins Cardinal Collins.

Published in Features

Strong leadership is founded on character but can be undermined by ego, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a room full of Toronto business leaders.

Published in Editorial

Cardinal Thomas Collins will meet and pray with faith leaders from across Toronto to start a more public conversation about violence against women in the spring of 2013.

Catholic Family Services is organizing the interfaith service, which Collins committed to attending in a message to the third annual Mass to End Woman Abuse celebrated at Blessed Trinity Church in Toronto Oct. 16.

Collins called violence against women a “terrible evil.”

“Often this happens out of the sight of the world, but those who experience it experience enormous grief and pain,” Collins wrote.

The idea that faith leaders are ready to publicly talk and pray about how women suffer at the hands of men is “a very good thing,” said Canadian Women’s Foundation president and CEO Bev Wybrow.

“What we would like to see come out of it is looking at the most effective ways to address violence in the context of faith communities,” Wybrow said. “That is very, very important to some women in particular and it hasn’t always been as appropriate as it should be.”

This year’s Mass to End Woman Abuse, organized by Catholic Family Service of Toronto, attracted about 200.

“I would want it to be standing room only,” said Kelly Bourke, who directs the Faith Connections youth program for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. “I find it challenging that it’s not.”

Though the Church may not be full, the annual event is giving a higher profile to the issue, said Virginia Koehler, director of Catholic Family Services woman abuse programs. With each Mass Catholic Family Services has seen an increase in referrals and volunteers.

“Priests are calling — priests we haven’t heard from,” she said.

The Mass particularly concentrates on thanking and honouring survivors of spousal abuse who volunteer as mentors in Catholic Family Services’ Women Helping Women program.

The impulse to keep silent about violence within marriages is exactly the cover abusers need, said Lucia Furgiuele, Catholic Family Services of Toronto executive director.

“We stand united in breaking the silence that accompanies this issue,” she said.

Women should never be told to be obedient and pray in the face of violence, said Furgiuele.

“Our Church teaches that women should leave abusive situations that persist,” she said.

Prayer is not irrelevant, said Wybrow.

“Prayer can be accompanied by concrete action as well and help make sure action is appropriate as possible,” she said.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

ROME - Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto took possession of his titular church Oct. 23, celebrating an evening Mass at St. Patrick's Church in Rome.

"Now, after 40 years of ordination to the priesthood, I am, in a certain sense, becoming a parish priest," the cardinal said in his homily.

Cardinal Collins, who became a cardinal in February, was assigned to be honorary pastor of the Irish national church in Rome, which is entrusted to the Augustinian order. All cardinals are given honorary title to a church in Rome, as a reminder that the early popes were elected by the city's pastors.

"Although a cardinal relates to the universal church, he is also a parish priest, and that's something very, very beautiful," the cardinal told the congregation, which included pilgrims from Toronto and his former Archdiocese of Edmonton, Alberta, as well as Anne Leahy, Canada's ambassador to the Vatican.

"The church is universal and the church is always local, like concave and convex, the universal and local," he said. "Those two must go together."

The cardinal concelebrated with about 20 priests, including Archbishops Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan, Alberta, and Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec.

"As Christians, we need to be solid as a community of faith in building the temple of the Lord," the cardinal said. "But it's not enough to be stable, solid, joined together. If we were only to do that, we would miss the point of who we are."

"We need to have that fire, that zeal for evangelization," he said, pointing to the example of St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland. "We are called to spread that life, that light, that fire, and kindle fire in the hearts of others."

Published in International
October 17, 2012

Won’t be silenced

“Defending the voiceless is our mission.” Cardinal Thomas Collins, addressing a packed house at the annual Cardinal’s dinner on Oct. 11, couldn’t have been more blunt in delivering that pro-life message to the Ontario government. Catholic schools largely exist to impart the teachings and moral values of the Church. On the issue of life, Church teaching is unequivocal, just as the cardinal’s position is immovable.

His comments came a day after Education Minister Laurel Broten made the outlandish claim that being pro-life was tantamount to misogyny and therefore pro-life activities were unwelcome in Catholic schools because, she suggested, advocating misogyny contravenes Bill-13, the province’s new anti-bullying law.

“Taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be considered one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take,” she said.

Catholic educators have every right to bristle at the minister’s rhetoric. She apparently believes that when Catholic teachers use the catechism to profess that life begins at conception and abortion is immoral, they are teaching Catholic youth to hate women. The suggestion is ludicrous and reflects the very intolerance that prompted the minister’s own anti-bullying laws. A minister serious about confronting misogyny would investigate the rise in Canada of sex-selection abortion that targets females. Catholic education is not the problem.

Catholic students are taught to respect life and love all. Catholic teachers are hardly women haters — they’re mostly women! To label them misogynists is as absurd as accusing ministers who send their kids to Catholic schools of being anti-Catholic.

The cardinal’s other point was to underline again that Catholic education rights are enshrined in Canada’s Constitution and are protected in the provincial Education Act. The soon-to-be-retired premier or his education minister have no authority to make Catholic schools less Catholic by coercing them to abandon a core mission. Also, parents have a constitutionally protected right to send their children to publicly funded, faith-filled school environments that promote Catholic morals and values.

“Both the Constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected,” Collins said. “It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially for those who are voiceless.”

After using Bill-13 to force Catholic schools to accept gay-straight clubs, Broten now seems poised to use the bill to trample other religious freedom rights. That is very troubling. Will a pretext be devised to muzzle Church teachings on, say, divorce, same-sex marriage, contraception, chastity and fidelity? The bill was sold as a means to subdue bullies, not crush Catholic education.

Broten repeatedly says she supports Catholic education. But it’s becoming increasingly unclear if she even knows what that is.

Published in Editorial

TORONTO - Comments from Ontario’s education minister that equate Catholic teaching on abortion with misogyny have provoked a letter of protest from Cardinal Thomas Collins and a call for the minister’s resignation from other irate Catholics.

Speaking to reporters on Oct. 10, Laurel Broten suggested that under the province’s new anti-bullying legislation Catholic schools should not be teaching that abortion is wrong because “Bill-13 is about tackling misogyny.”

“We’re very clear with the passage of Bill-13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violate human rights and bring a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” Broten said. She later added: “Taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions.”

Collins sent a letter to Broten to express deep concerns about her comments. He also addressed the issue on Oct. 11 when he spoke frankly to 1,700 people attending the 33rd annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto.

“It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten,” Collins said. “We all have a stake in assuring that the faith identity of Catholic schools is respected.”

Collins did not specifically mention Broten, and neither she nor Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced his retirement on Oct. 15, were in attendance.

The cardinal pointed to Section 93 of Canada’s Constitution and Section 1 of Ontario’s Education Act that enshrine religious freedom for denomination-al schools and “make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected.”

He said that includes the right for “all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life . . . Defending the voiceless is our mission.”

When the ministry was asked if Broten would respond to questions or wished to make further comment or clarify her statements, a spokesman said she was unavailable. Instead the ministry issued a statement that said Bill-13 does not change the curriculum and that the government was “confident that all schools Catholic and public, English and French will be able to operationalize the Act.”

Campaign Life Coalition has demanded Broten’s resignation. It also launched an online petition calling for the repeal of Bill-13. By The Register’s press time on Oct. 16, the petition had received more than 5,000 signatures.

“We are outraged by the McGuinty government’s frontal assault on religious liberty, and on the constitutional right of Catholic schools in Ontario to teach the Church’s pro-life views,” said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, in an Oct. 15 statement. “We have never before seen a government assault on religious freedom like what Minister Broten ispromising.”
Mary Ellen Douglas, Campaign Life’s Ontario president and a former Catholic school trustee, called on all voters, “whether Catholic or not,” to protest the infringement on religious rights, what she called a “lingering threat to our most fundamental freedom.”

Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said that during the debate on Bill-13, abortion was never on the table and sees no reason why it should be there now.

“Catholic teachings are all about life. The act of abortion is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the values Catholic schools promote,” he said. “The Catholic community needs to mobilize and show that we still believe in our teachings, we still believe in the Catholic Church and that we are going to move forward like we’ve always done.”

Constitutionally speaking, Catholics are on solid ground to defend the right to teach Church doctrine in Catcholic schools, said constitutional lawyer Eugene Meehan.

“The Ontario Education Act itself enshrines denominational rights of the schools,” he said. “Section 257.52 says that the minister is not to interfere with, or control, the denomination aspects of a Roman Catholic school.”

Meehan said Broten’s comments only add fuel to a potential legal challenge of Bill-13.

“It does add additional weight because that opinion makes it clear both on the Charter and Canada’s Constitution that there are certain things that the province can do on the religious context and certainly things that they clearly can not do,” said the former legal officer of the Supreme Court of Canada. “Catholic schools and Catholic school boards being told whether they are to be pro-choice, pro-life, pro-anything doctrinally does sound awfully close to being told — in a religious context — what religious tenets can be taught and which can not.”

Published in Canada

[Updated at 12/10/12, 10:30 a.m.]

In a rebuke to comments made by Education Minister Lauren Broten, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed audience that the identity of Catholic schools must be respected and the mission of Catholic schools includes engaging in pro-life activities.

Collins made his comments to 1,700 people at the annual Cardinal's Dinner on Thursday night a day after Broten suggested that under the province's new anti-bullying legislation Catholic schools should not be teaching that abortion is wrong because "Bill-13 is about tackling misogyny."

"Taking away a woman's right to choose could arguably be considered one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take," she said at a press conference. "I don't think there is a conflict between choosing Catholic education for your children and supporting a woman's right to choose."

Collins did not specifically mention Broten, and neither she nor Premier Dalton McGuinty attended the dinner at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre. The Ontario government was represented by Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Charles Sousa. He heard the cardinal defend the rights of Catholic education in no uncertain terms.

Collins said the Catholic identity of Catholic schools is "recognized and protected" by section 93 of the constitution and by section 1 of the Education Act.

"Both the constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected," he said.

Then, referring to Bill-13, the government's anti-bullying legislation, he said:

"This is true when it comes to the establishment of anti-bullying groups designed to make the school a better place for all, and in Catholic schools that means following the method outlined in the document Respecting Difference, of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association. It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten.

"It is also true when it comes to protecting the freedom of all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life in which the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected and honoured throughout their whole life on earth from the moment of conception to natural death.

"Defending the voiceless is our mission."

Collins reminded the audience that Catholic education has been an integral component of Ontario schooling since before Confederation. He said the province was blessed to have a religious and non-religious education system that "work together in co-operation to make education a treasure for which all Ontarians may truly be thankful."

"There is more beauty in the variety of a garden than in the uniform, undifferentiated, monotony of the dull flat surface of a parking lot," he said.

"The complementary variety in our educational system is an advantage for all, producing not only a healthy competition from which all benefit, but also a fruitful collaboration, and the richness of different approaches to the key issues of life.

"That diversity reflects the reality of the differences that exist in our province. The system works."

Broten, who doubles as the minister responsible for women's issues, made her comments on Oct. 10 after Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) held a press conference at Queen's Park to promote weekend rallies that will demand the province stop funding abortion through Ontario health insurance.  The CLC press conference was sponsored by three Conservative MPPs.

In posing a question to Broten, a reporter said "the Catholic school system in this province is teaching the kind of intolerant thought that we saw coming out of that (CLC) press conference. They let kids out of school to go to anti-abortion rallies. Is that appropriate?" When Broten dodges that question, a reporter again asked: "Should schools be encouraging kids to go to anti-abortion rallies?"

"In Ontario, we support Catholic education, support the teaching of love and tolerance in our schools and at the same time we support the right to chose." she replied. "I am one that supports Catholic education and has been adamantly inn support of women's right to chose for many years and I do not see a conflict in those."

Published in Canada

This article was amended on Sept. 24, 2012 to clarify comments made by Jim Hughes.

OTTAWA - A statement by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller that supports Catholics who campaign for “gestational legislation” to limit abortion has helped calm growing tensions within the pro-life movement.

Miller wrote it is “morally licit” for Catholics to support legislation that sets limits on abortion rather than immediately banning it outright. The archbishop’s statement, quickly endorsed by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins and posted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) web site, urges co-operation in the pro-life movement but stresses: “Co-operation does not always mean unanimity regarding a given strategy; open and civil debate about the wisdom of any specific strategy is healthy.”

Over the past year, support in pro-life circles across Canada has grown for a law that would prohibit abortion at later stages of pregnancy or gestation. Campaign Life Coalition, the national political arm of the movement, however, has remained staunchly opposed as have several other groups that believe incremental legislation of this type will not result in an eventual ban on abortion.

Each side has accused the other of not being Christian or Catholic enough — either for not protecting those babies that might be saved through some restrictions on abortion, or for not sending a strong enough message about the value of all human life from conception.

But Miller said that both positions, for or against gestational legislation, are morally licit.

Miller wrote it is acceptable to support gestational legislation (i.e. legislation that would allow abortion in the early weeks of the unborn child’s development) as an incremental step that would reduce the harms of “an unjust legal regime that permits abortion.” But such law should be regarded “as a step along the way to the eventual full legal protection of the right to life of all unborn human beings.”

“At the same time, it is also morally licit to withhold support for gestational legislation — and other incrementalist legislative strategies intended to limit access to abortion — if, after prudent reflection, one is convinced that it is an unwise legislative strategy,” he said.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), co-sponsored by the CCCB and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus, welcomed Miller’s intervention.

“The division within the pro-life movement is very preoccupying, especially when leaders and members of pro-life groups point at each other and criticize each other’s approach to protecting the unborn,” said COLF director Michele Boulva. “All this hinders our chances of obtaining a law that would protect the most vulnerable of Canadians — its unborn citizens.”

She applauded the bishops’ taking leadership in the pro-life arena.

“As Catholics it is essential that we turn to our bishops when confusion arises regarding the Church’s teaching. Christ has empowered them to teach in His name.”

Based on Blessed John Paul II’s teachings in Evangelium Vitae, “legislation which intends to limit the harm done by a pro-abortion law is not itself co-operation with unjust law but rather ‘a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects,’ ” the archbishop wrote.  

The absence of any law restricting abortion in Canada is a “de facto legal regime that permits abortion with almost no restrictions,” the archbishop said.

“Legislation intended to restrict access to abortion would not create a new legal situation in Canada which would authorize abortions, but instead would intend to limit the number of abortions already authorized under law,” he said.  

He also reiterated Catholic teaching against abortion at any stage, noting that “no law can claim to legitimize abortion.”

Two major pro-life groups on either side of the issue welcomed Miller’s statement.

Campaign Life president Jim Hughes said the archbishop makes it clear we have a de facto law by having no restrictions on abortion.

“I thought Archbishop Miller laid the case pretty well,” he said. "Although I and many others would not necessarily agree with his opinion on a de facto law.”

The most important part of his statement “points out that gestational legislation may or may not be the way to go,” said Hughes, who remains wary of the gestational legislation approach.

Priests for Life Canada is among the many pro-life groups that would support gestational legislation. Priests for Life board chairman Fr. John Lemire, a parish priest based in New Liskeard, Ont., said he is pleased the archbishop’s statement has “supported the idea that a Catholic, a Catholic politician, can in good conscience support gestational legislation.”

The archbishop’s letter may have helped shore up some of the unity within the pro-life movement that has been fragile since its inception, Hughes said. The movement is made up of political, educational and pastoral groups that counsel and support mothers with unexpected pregnancies.

“Campaign Life Coalition has been accused of being ‘all or nothing’ and that’s not true,” Lemire said, noting that since its first questionnaire in 1978, it has “always had an incremental question as part of its strategy.”

The key, said Hughes, is in the wording of any legislation.

“I’m not in favour of ‘we need any law,’ ” Hughes said.

He is opposed to the gestational approach because the experience of countries with gestational laws in place have “so many exceptions” the laws are “virtually useless.” There are many other forms of incremental legislation that would restrict abortion — such as defunding it, or informed consent laws, that Campaign Life would support, he said.

“As the political branch of the pro-life movement we have been battling over 30 years,” he said. Campaign Life has also worked closely with counterparts in other countries who have said “gestational limits are not the way to go.”

Hughes’ objection to gestational legislation extends beyond doctrinal concerns to practical matters, he said. Campaign Life has focused on identifying and supporting individual pro-life candidates in both the Conservative and Liberal parties at the grassroots level. He noted that there are presently 60 pro-life MPs in Parliament. A gestational bill would not have the votes to pass, he said. In addition, Prime Minister Steven Harper remains unwilling to reopen the abortion debate.

Hughes said momentum on the issue has been shifting towards the pro-life movement, but a focus on gestational legislation risks sidetracking it.

The role of the Priests for Life, Lemire said, is to work with all the groups, to “try to be a bridge builder and bring about some dialogue and conversations” not only among groups but with bishops and people in dioceses.

That does not mean Priests for Life agrees with every tactic, he said. But he stressed people who might not be comfortable in an activist role could be great counselling a young expectant mother, or doing any number of tasks that need to be done to create a culture of life.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - The complexity, heartbreak and bitter politics of the endless Palestinian-Israeli conflict are no reason for Christians to either settle for easy answers or to throw up their hands in despair. The situation calls for Christian charity and solidarity, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed theatre in Toronto Sept. 5.

Collins was on hand for the Toronto premiere of the Salt + Light TV documentary Across the Divide. The full-length documentary takes a close look at Bethlehem University — the only Catholic post-secondary institution in the Holy Land — and the trials of fourth-year commerce student Berlanty Azzam. Azzam was caught up in a maze of Israeli military security procedures that saw her detained and prevented from returning to Bethlehem to finish her degree.

Azzam's detention by Israeli forces while she was on her way to a job interview in Ramallah became an international incident in 2009. The case blew up while Salt + Light producer Kris Dmytrenko and a crew were on the Bethlehem University campus making a film about the Christian Brothers and their 39-year-old university just outside Jerusalem.

If the Church has to pick a side, it chooses to stand with the poor and the refugees, said Collins in a panel discussion after the screening. Collins was a participating bishop in the Synod on the Middle East in 2010.

"We have to help them," said Collins, who has spearheaded efforts by Canadian dioceses to sponsor Iraqi refugees displaced by the turmoil in their homeland. "We would prefer, of course, that they can flourish in their home."

The whole point of Bethlehem University is that it is a means for Palestinians — Chistians and Muslims — to flourish where they are, said Robert Smith, the university's vice chancellor. The university's student body is about 70 per cent Muslim and 30 per cent Christian.

"They (graduates) will be trained and professional and committed to build a nation as well as a Church," he said.

Dmytrenko, co-director of Across the Divide, warned against the temptation to name good guys and bad guys in the conflict.

"There's a lot of people suffering on both sides," he said. "It's not a case of who is suffering more."

"People think that all Muslims are terrorists trying to get rid of all Christians. That's not true," said Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada director Carl Hetu.

As a Maronite Catholic from Lebanon, it was important to Mona Dagher to be at the documentary's premiere.

"I would hope that people will at least know what is going on there," said Dagher.

She praised the film for accurately depicting the lives of Palestinian Christians.

Ajax high school teacher Deanna Wilson said she plans to show the movie to her Grade 12 World Religions class.

"We have an obligation to open our lens to other religions and realities," she said.

She hopes particularly that her comfortable, suburban teens are moved by Azzam's struggle to get an education.

"There are a lot of details I wasn't aware of," said Danny Ferguson at the end of the evening. "It's important to understand the political environment."

"This gets the word out. This gets out the truth and the fullness of the truth," said Smith.

"Our purpose in making this documentary was not to convince. It was simply to tell a story," Salt + Light CEO Fr. Tom Rosica told the audience.

Rosica said he's received calls from committed advocates for both sides in the conflict — Palestinians, Jews and their allies — all equally unhappy with the film. But rather than buying into the rhetoric of the conflict the film strives to accurately fill in the political, economic, social and religious reality Bethlehem University struggles with daily.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Ten years ago, Chris Lemieux sat amidst a crowd of Catholics listening to the vocation stories of a group of young men on the brink of entering the priesthood. Though it was only a few months after his baptism, he knew then that he was being called to religious life.

So on March 6, it was only fitting that Lemieux would follow in the footsteps of those men and become one of this year's four priestly candidates to share their stories with a crowd of more than 1,900 at the 22nd annual Ordinandi Dinner. Serra International, an organization promoting vocations to Catholic religious life, hosted the evening, which was held at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton, Ont.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Like the prophet Jonah, Catholics need to become “boldly engaged” in a society that at times can seem “distant and antagonistic” to our faith, Cardinal Thomas Collins urged at a Pontifical Mass of thanksgiving in honour of his recent elevation to the College of Cardinals.

“We need engagement. Bold engagement,” said Collins, adding we can all learn from Jonah, “the reluctant prophet” sent by God to preach to the ancient pagan city of Nineveh.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Young people today often have misconceptions of what a Catholic should be and it is up to the older generation to show them what the faith truly means, said Sr. Inmaculada.

Sr. Inmaculada, 28, is one of the driving forces behind this year’s youth weekend hosted by the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). This annual event on March 10-11 offers opportunities for Catholics, both lay and religious, to share their faith experiences with youth through talks about topics ranging from sexuality to theology to the sacraments along with fellowship, games and sports.

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - Cardinal Thomas Collins was big news over the two weeks leading up to his elevation to the College of Cardinals.

Every major news organization in Canada covered the event in Rome with news reports, analysis, feature interviews, photos, videos and live blogging. Canada’s largest newspaper kicked its coverage off with a two-part profile of Collins that ate up pages of precious newsprint.

“It was acres, wasn’t it?” said Toronto Star associate editor Alison Uncles. “It was thousands of words.”

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

ROME - Canada’s newest cardinal, resplendent in shimmering scarlet vestments, was still adjusting to his new look on Feb. 18 when he arrived at a reception in his honour. Barely two hours earlier he had become His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins after Pope Benedict XVI welcomed Toronto’s archbishop into the College of Cardinals on a sunny Saturday morning.

“These robes are very bright,” quipped Collins. “I’ll certainly stick out in a crowd.”

Published in Editorial

ROME - For the first time in its 100-year history, St. Patrick’s Irish National Church in Rome has a Cardinal Protector who is not Irish. But in Cardinal Thomas Collins the congregation figures it has been blessed with the next best thing.

“He has Irish roots,” said Fr. Tony Finn. “So there’s still an Irish connection. We’re delighted.”

When the Pope welcomes new members into the College of Cardinals they are made a titular pastor of a church in Rome. As such, they are entitled to vote in a papal conclave in keeping with  the centuries-old tradition that the clergy of Rome elect the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Collins learned that he was awarded St. Patrick’s a few days before the consistory but was sworn to secrecy until the Pope’s announcement.

Published in Editorial