Archbishop Anthony Mancini

Francis Campbell: Retirement arrives in a bizarre time

  • December 10, 2020

Archbishop Anthony Mancini could hardly have envisioned a more atypical adieu to his service with the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese.

The COVID-19 pandemic and his apparent inaction in dealing with a sexually abusive Montreal-area priest some two decades ago cast an ominous shadow on Mancini’s exit.

“Any effort to try to do a tour of the parishes or bringing people together for the closing events … everything has been limited,” Mancini said just days ahead of his 75th birthday on Nov. 27 that coincided with his retirement.

“We adjust and we do what we can.”

Part of that adjustment was no doubt spurred by the Nov. 25 release by the Montreal archdiocese of a 276-page report on an independent investigation into the handling of complaints against former diocesan priest Brian Boucher.

Ordained in 1996, Boucher was convicted in January 2019 of sexual assault of two minors and sentenced to eight years in prison two months later.

Complaints against Boucher chronicled years of rude, authoritarian, homophobic and racist behaviour that included verbal and physical abuse.

According to the report on an investigation by a retired Quebec judge, Mancini, who was an auxiliary bishop in Montreal from 1999 to 2007, did not take any action against Boucher.

The disordered world of 2020 that brought the ill winds of the Boucher report to Mancini’s desk during his retirement week also unleashed on his adopted province of Nova Scotia several consecutive days of reported double-digit COVID cases.

The province announced updated COVID restrictions for Halifax Regional Municipality, where the majority of the new reported cases originated. The archdiocese followed suit, announcing adjustments to celebrations for Mancini’s birthday and retirement. A Mass of thanksgiving for the archbishop’s ministry and the succession of Archbishop Brian Dunn on Nov. 27 was livestreamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica. The restrictions also forced the archdiocese to ask parishes in central and western parts of the municipality to suspend Masses.

Not really the way Mancini would have planned a departure from active service.

Mancini and his family arrived in Canada on Dec. 1, 1948, at Pier 21 in Halifax, leaving behind their war-torn Italian village of Mignano in the province of Caserta.

Mancini grew up in Montreal but returned to Halifax to be installed as archbishop of the then-Archdiocese of Halifax on his 62nd birthday in November 2007. 

Mancini presided over the 2011 merger of the Yarmouth diocese with the Halifax archdiocese and a parish restructuring that came into effect this past Jan. 1, creating 20 amalgamated parishes with multiple worship sites. Mancini said the restructuring took “a lot of work” and, as with any change, it wasn’t met with 100-per-cent buy-in by parishioners.

One change that did appear seamless and that may provide a blueprint for other dioceses is the transition at the archbishop level.

“When the topic of 75 was looming, the question was what do we do,” Mancini said. “There is going to be a change in leadership and is there some way in which we can have a smoother transition in leadership than the usual approach?”

After conversations and reflection, Mancini eventually asked Rome about taking the unusual step of appointing a coadjutor archbishop.

“Within a month, the answer came back that the Pope had accepted my suggestion,” he said.

Dunn was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Halifax-Yarmouth by Pope Francis on April 13, 2019.

“What’s interesting is that since I did it, a couple of other bishops have done the same thing in other parts of the country,” Mancini said.

The scourge of clerical abuse accompanied Mancini from Montreal to Nova Scotia. A class action suit against the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese for clerical sexual abuse dating back as far as 1960 is still pending and has not been settled on Mancini’s watch.

In a letter addressing the class action posted on the Halifax-Yarmouth site in June, Mancini said experience has shown it is hard to face the sexual abuse crisis each time it’s been highlighted.

“It should be hard to face, because such crimes and the devastation which sexual abuse has had on the victims cannot and must not be ignored or swept under the carpet,” Mancini wrote, words that might ring hollow to some Catholics in the wake of the Montreal report.

Still, Mancini’s work in the Nova Scotia archdiocese has been commendable, seemingly bereft of controversy or scandal.

Now, with COVID having forestalled a Mancini family trip to Florida and a junket to Italy to visit Rome and his home province, what exactly does a retired archbishop do?

“I am going to learn,” Mancini said. “The plan is to continue to live here in Halifax and see how things unfold.”

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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