He is taking over the leadership of Canada’s largest English-speaking Catholic diocese – with some 1.7 million adherents, 225 parishes and four missions – at a pivotal time in this country’s history, when abortions now number over 100,000 yearly in Canada, same-sex “marriage” has been legalized, the traditional family is otherwise under assault by widespread divorce and co-habitation and pornography outsells Hollywood movies, among other serious social problems.

Archbishop Thomas Collins has some ideas on how the situation can be addressed. The former archbishop of Edmonton says he plans to give voice to Catholic values in the public sphere as his new ministry takes shape.

“We are a very important community within the greater community of society,” he said. “We are important numerically, we are significant historically … and we are important in terms of the contribution we make to the common good of all society … I think, to put it mildly, we have earned a place at the table.”

Collins was installed as the 10th archbishop of Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral on Jan. 30. He was born in 1947 and ordained to the priesthood in 1973. He served as bishop of St. Paul, Alta. from 1997-1999 and as archbishop of Edmonton from 1999 until his appointment to Toronto. He sat down with The Interim in his office the day after his installation to talk about his plans for life and the family in his diocese in the coming years.

Collins said with respect to the traditional family, the church has to remain focused on the central reality that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, faithful in love and open to the gift of life. “It becomes, therefore, very important to appreciate how that great reality can be strengthened. I would say one very, very great way of doing that would be for people to study the teachings of Pope John Paul II in the Theology of the Body (an integrated vision of the human person – body, soul, and spirit)… I think it’s very important to popularize that, where the intense writings of the Holy Father are made more accessible to everybody.”

On human life, Collins reiterated the Catholic church’s teaching that life is sacred from the first moment of conception to natural death. In promoting that ethic, he would like to see the church first emphasize providing positive alternatives to those contemplating abortion or other life-ending actions such as assisted suicide or euthanasia. “I think we are mistaken if we start with the negative response. We should start with the positive.”

Second, Collins would like to promulgate to others not directly faced with a life-and-death situation the sacredness-of-life ethic. “Our advertising, our advocacy, our public emphasis, should be totally or almost totally in that dimension … If people only realized the precious gift of human life, a person made in the image and likeness of God, no matter how vulnerable, no matter how small, no matter how old and how frail … that is the greatest barrier to the terrible realities we’re aware of in terms of abortion, euthanasia and other things.”

Collins added it is the reduction of other human beings to the status of objects that leads to the death-dealing manifestations modern civilization is seeing today. “When they do that, then anything goes. I think that has happened, so people don’t see a problem … Our second phase or dimension of what we should emphasize is to provide a radiant, clear vision of the dignity of the human person throughout the whole continuum of life.”

Third, Collins said the church needs to deal with “elements within our social reality” that are against this ethic and are moving in the direction of the “culture of death.”

“But I think you first put the emphasis on practical assistance … We need to be involved in providing positive, practical alternatives and second, providing a vision of the culture of life … We stress the virtue and leave no room for the vice. If we simply stress the vice, we’ll spend all our time on that and that’s ultimately not the most fruitful way of approaching things.”

In conclusion, Collins indicated he would like to see the church take a more prominent role in the secular media, as did other great Catholics of the past such as Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and G.K. Chesterton. “This is where we should be … We need to reach outwards in a respectful, creative and energetic way to be present … We can’t be complaining about the popular culture not being in tune with the culture of life and say, ‘Oh, isn’t that too bad?’ Very well – what are we doing about it?”