Later this week, Toronto Archbishiop Thomas Collins will be one of the 22 bishops promoted to Cardinal. The Toronto Star and its various publications had a large feature about Archbishop Collins on the weekend (brought to our attention by the archdiocese’s communicators director Neil MacCarthy on Twitter). The article, written by Sandro Contenta, notes:
He’s been especially vocal on abortion, denouncing then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for insisting the procedure be part of a federal maternal health policy for the developing world. Collins also invited to Toronto an order called the Sisters of Life, which helps pregnant women, and set the nuns up in a former church on Danforth Avenue.
He’s been less vocal on specific issues of social justice. He made the recession the focus of an address in October 2008, however, calling it a consequence of “living beyond our means,” and noting the church’s teachings on human dignity and the common good. He also addressed a conference on the abuse of women, calling for sermons on the “terrible evil” so that women will not “feel like they are alone.”
Two points about those paragraphs. First, he might not have spoken out as much as the Toronto Star would like, but in fact he has focused on the Catholic Church — church-goers, the Church, and matters of faith — not politics. That means few public pronouncements about social justice and moral issues. Which brings me to my second point: pro-lifers are pleased with what he’s done, and he has certainly been supportive of pro-life initiatives including 40 Days for Life, LifeChain, and frontline services that aid abortion-minded women such as Sisters for Life and Aid to Women, but to say he has been outspoken is an exaggeration. There are two notable exceptions, and the big one was criticizing Michael Ignatieff’s push to have abortion included as part of Canada’s maternal health initiative in 2010. With too few exceptions, Canadian bishops do not “speak out” against abortion the way many American bishops do. For better or worse, it just isn’t part of the church’s culture up here.
Religious leaders were quick to respond. Toronto Catholic Archbishop Thomas Collins publicly rebuked Ignatieff. In a statement, he said that “in light of the many positive contributions that Canada can make to the improvement of maternal and child health, it is astonishing that the leader of the opposition, Mr. Michael Ignatieff, has issued a statement advocating contraception and abortion as fundamental elements addressing” maternal and infant health.
He continued: “There are many fruitful ways to improve maternal and child health and the discussion should centre on the most effective strategies for doing this.” Collins noted that even abortion supporters do not “propose it as a positive contribution to society.”
I’m not sure that is much cause for hand-wringing from those who worry about religion’s influence on the public square.
One way in which he has been more vocal — and consistent with fixing what’s wrong inside the Church rather than the broader society — has been in the controversy over Development and Peace’s funding of abortion in the developing world. The foreign aid branch of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops takes a laissez faire attitude to funding pro-abortion groups in Latin America and Africa. Archbishop Collins has been a leader in trying to fix this scandal, and in 2009 he withheld funds from D&P and set conditions on future funding:
As The Interim was going to press, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins released a two-page statement regarding funding of Development and Peace. He said in the statement, “We will set aside $1,125,000, which will be available for projects of Development and Peace which are operated by organizations endorsed by local bishops.” John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSiteNews said, “The measure will serve to clear up the problems with such funding since none of the pro-abortion groups funded by D&P are known to be endorsed by their local bishops in the developing world.”
Archbishop Collins also called for a “through review” of D&P, saying “in this coming year there needs to be a comprehensive review of the organization, including its mandate, its governance and organizational structure, its policies and protocols related to the funding of projects, and the instruments of communication linking Development and Peace and the Canadian bishops.” He said that future funding for D&P will be contingent on reform of the organization.
He has also spoken out against abortion at the National March for Life in Ottawa. But Archbishop Collins is much more likely to provide a quiet and prayerful example of pro-life leadership. In 2010, we noted he took part in 40 Days for Life in Toronto, and he has prayed the Rosary at LifeChains. He has also provided moral and material support to crisis pregnancy centers. That is consisent with what he told The Interim when he was installed as bishop in 2007:
“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.”
I don’t mean to be critical — that Archbishop Collins is doing this but not that. Some pro-lifers would certainly want him to be more outspoken. I’m simply pointing out that the Star is not really correct in suggesting he is an outspoken pro-lifer and quiet on social justice issues — I don’t even like the suggestion that moral and social justice issues are opposites — while noting that Archbishop Collins has a leadership style that is not openly vocal about political matters. But I also want to point out to those who wish he would do more, that he does, in fact, do quite a bit.
We at The Interim thank Cardinal-designate Collins for his support of pro-life efforts in Toronto, the archdiocese, and Canada, and congratulate him on his promotion. We will have coverage of the ceremony in the March Interim.