CNS PHOTO | COURTESY ARCHDIOCESE OF MONTREAL
Archbishop Christian Lepine, 60, will be installed as Archbishop of Montreal April 27.
When Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine is installed April 27 in Canada's second largest diocese, the event inaugurates a new era for the Quebec episcopacy.
"Now there's a new generation of bishops who are very much in tune with the needs of young people in their dioceses, and this is crucial for the new evangelization," said McGill University historian John Zucchi.
A generation of bishops who were in their seventies, "many of them concerned with a 1970s and '80s way of looking at the Church" have retired, replaced by a new age cohort that has "rejuvenated" the episcopacy and brought fresh perspective, Zucchi said.
Over the past four years most have been replaced, with some of the biggest new appointments made in the last year.
Lépine's appointment earlier this year, after only six months as auxiliary bishop, "came as a shock to some people," Zucchi said. "He came out of left field. I don't think many people expected this."
"In many ways, his appointment caught people by surprise the way Cardinal Ouellet's caught people by surprise when he came back to Quebec," he said. "The surprising way in which it happened is a sign that it really was God's doing."
Ouellet, who in 2010 left Quebec to become prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the top positions in the Holy See, advises Pope Benedict on candidates for the episcopacy.
Among other surprising and innovative appointments, was that of Ouellet's replacement a little over a year ago - the naming of Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix - who had served less than two years as one of Ouellet's auxiliary bishops.
Lépine's and Lacroix's appointments bookend a process that saw other significant new appointments over the past year, including that of Archbishop Luc Cyr to Sherbrooke and Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher to Gatineau, of Bishop Noel Simard to Valleyfield and of Bishop Luc Bouchard to Trois-Rivières.
Both Durocher and Bouchard are Ontario francophones named to prominent roles in Quebec. Bouchard served most recently in the St. Paul Diocese in Alberta. Last summer's appointment of Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd, one of the youngest bishops in the world, was another surprise.
The previous generation of bishops were "left confused" by the effects of the Quiet Revolution that quickly emptied Quebec churches in the 1970s, Zucchi said. "In the aftermath of the Quiet Revolution, they didn't know how to respond and quite how to read the Church's role in society."
"As people abandoned the Church and Church attendance dropped, the bishops rightfully thought about how the Church could be meaningful once again," he said. "And perhaps they had difficulty answering that question."
"They tried many experiments, yet numbers continued to drop," he said. Efforts to "be relevant in the political and social engagement that continued in the '70s, '80s and '90s were perhaps latching on to fads that didn't express the Church's unique perspective on the world."
"I think this is where the new bishops who have arrived are going to be quite different," Zucchi said.
"All the bishops that have been nominated adamantly emphasize the centrality of Christ and the Church to human salvation, and because of that take a very human position that values life from conception to natural death."
"I think these bishops are attuned to young people because they understand the political and even religious battles of their parents' generation are not relevant to the young people," the historian said. "They really don't care about the Quebec separation issue or women's ordination."
The young people who are returning to Church are not interested in fighting the battles of their parents' generation, instead they are deeply curious about the faith, he said.
"Young people are coming back to the Church for themselves, for an answer to spiritual meaning," he said. "These new bishops understand that."
They genuinely have a love for their people and are very present for them," he said. "They understand the importance of presence. They love their flock."