Archbishop Thomas Collins

CNS PHOTO | BILL WITTMAN

Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto is among 22 new cardinals named Jan. 6 by Pope Benedict.

January 16, 2012
JIM O'LEARY
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Receiving the honour of a papal invitation to join the College of Cardinals means Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will become an advisor to Pope Benedict, likely be assigned a symbolic parish in Rome and acquire important commissions from the pope.

And as the highest-ranked Canadian Catholic prelate outside Quebec, he will also become the primary spokesman for the Church in English Canada. As an archbishop, he is familiar with the role. As a cardinal, it takes on greater weight.

That's not to suggest the new cardinal will become wildly outspoken. That's not his style, nor should it be. But Collins, who the pope designated on Jan. 6 to become a cardinal, expects to be proactive in ensuring that Church positions on important social justice and life issues are voiced in the public forum.

"I've tried to do that in the past, and I'll need to do more," said Collins, who has issued many public statements. "Not in a partisan, political sense. We don't chose a party. But I intend to speak out on the moral issues in society.

"How, when and in what forum – that will be a matter of prudential judgment. I'll have to make that judgment. But it's incumbent on a spiritual leader – a bishop or a cardinal – to do that."

Collins, who turns 65 on Jan. 16, was among 22 bishops selected by Benedict to become cardinals. He becomes Canada's third active cardinal, joining Cardinals Marc Ouellet, president of the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican, and Jean-Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal.

Collins, who served as archbishop of Edmonton from 1999 to 2007, becomes the second active cardinal with a strong Alberta connection. Ouellet served as rector of St. Joseph Seminary during the 1990s.

Collins said he learned of the news on Jan. 5 after landing from an early evening flight from Washington and noticing a message on his Blackberry to call the Ottawa office of the nuncio, the Vatican's representative in Canada.

"He told me that the Holy Father was going to make me a cardinal in the morning," Collins said. "I said 'Wow!' I was astonished. What a great honour!"

Typically humble, Collins said the honour is not his alone as much as it indicates the pope's esteem for the role of Canada and its largest diocese in the universal Church.

"When I first heard the news I was taken aback," Collins said. "Later, I thought about the people in the archdiocese.

"It is a good thing for our local Church to have that direct connection to the universal Church, to be connected in a special way to the Holy Father."

The consistory to install the new cardinals will be held Feb. 18-19 in Rome. There, in two ceremonies steeped in centuries of tradition, the pope will present Collins with a gold ring as a sign of fidelity to the Church and a zucchetto and biretta, the "red hat."

Typically, during the consistory a new cardinal is assigned a parish in Rome where he acts as "spiritual protector" and an "honorary pastor" of the pope's diocese.

These pastors of Rome hold the responsibility of selecting the bishop of Rome, the pope.

Collins will become the fourth cardinal in the history of the Toronto Archdiocese and the 16th cardinal in the history of Canada. He follows Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic who died in Toronto last August at age 81.

Although Collins will remain archbishop of Toronto, he expects to become more involved in the global life of the Church by being asked to serve on Vatican commissions or committees and attending consistories called by the pope.

That will mean extra trips to Rome each year but his primary responsibilities will remain in Toronto.

"I may have some additional duties, but my fundamental duties won't change," he said.

At the death of a pope, cardinals under the age of 80 gather in conclave in Rome for a closed meeting to elect a successor. Collins called this the "most profound" responsibility of a cardinal.

He said he hopes to pattern his work as a cardinal after two saints he cites as heroes, Francis de Sales and Charles Borromeo.

In particular, he said he admires the focus St. Charles brought to his duties as cardinal of Milan during the turbulent post-reformation age in the 16th century.

"As Catholics, we are called not to drift, but to be focused," he said. "St. Charles Borromeo was a very holy man, very dedicated and focused."

Born and raised in Guelph, Ont., where he was an altar boy at the Church of our Lady, Collins was ordained a priest in 1973.

Pope John Paul II named him bishop of St. Paul, Alta., in 1997 and archbishop of Edmonton in 1999. Pope Benedict appointed him as the 10th archbishop of Toronto on Dec. 16, 2006.

Father Dennis Noon, pastor at Church of our Lady, has known Collins for more than 40 years. He told the Guelph Mercury that Collins is humble, intelligent and easily relates to people.

"Obviously the pope has recognized the gifts that he has," Noon said. "The only next step is if he were ever elected pope - next to that, being named a cardinal is the highest honour you could have."