The 3 Canadians who will help choose the next pope
Published Friday, February 15, 2013 12:41PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:36PM EST
Three Canadians will be among the 118 or so Roman Catholic cardinals who will convene in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel in mid-March to elect the next pope.
And while they each come from different backgrounds, and have had vastly different careers in the priesthood, what they share is a stated commitment to guide the church along the lines of Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative values.
Here is a look at the three Canadians who will help select the new leader of the world’s approximately 1 billion Roman Catholics.
To many in Quebec, Marc Ouellet is a polarizing figure. But around the world the former Archbishop of Quebec City is seen as one of the top contenders to become the first pope from North America.
For more than two years, the 68-year-old Ouellet has lived at the Vatican and has had the ear of Pope Benedict. Since 2010, Ouellet has served as head of the Congregation for Bishops, the powerful Vatican body that vets bishop nominations worldwide. The job has long been an important one, but it’s taken on added significance in the wake of the sex scandals engulfing the church.
Ouellet also speaks five languages and has strong ties to Latin and South America, where he worked for several years and where close to half of Catholics reside.
What he is low on, though, is experience with parishioners. Instead, Ouellet is more of an academic, with advanced degrees in theology and philosophy from two universities in Rome. For most of the 1970s and early 1980s, he was either studying theology in Europe or teaching philosophy at seminaries in Colombia, Montreal and Europe.
In 2002, Ouellet was appointed as archbishop of Quebec City, and elevated to cardinal the next year. And it was in Quebec where he stirred controversy with his highly conservative views. At one point, when he banned the practice of “general absolution” -- a commonly used mass-forgiveness ceremony that allows Catholics to avoid the confessional. The ceremony is favoured by many priests because it often boosts attendance, but Ouellet, a purist, saw it as a shortcut.
Ouellet is also remembered in Quebec for remarks he made in 2010 when he labelled abortion as a "moral crime" even in cases of rape. That comment provoked angry reactions from women's rights activists and a number of politicians -- including now-Premier Pauline Marois.
In 2010, he moved to Rome after being named prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and has since moved in the Vatican’s inner circles. But while bookmakers say he has a good chance of being elected, Ouellet himself has laughed off the idea of becoming pontiff, saying in 2011 that the workload and responsibility "would be a nightmare."
Jean-Claude Turcotte, 76, is the only Canadian cardinal to take part in the papal conclave after retiring from pastoral duties. Despite his decision to step away from those duties, Turcotte remains a cardinal for life and so, since he meets the College of Cardinals age requirement, is eligible to take part in the papal election.
Turcotte was ordained in 1959, appointed Archbishop of Montreal in 1990 and in 1994, Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal. During his final years as Archbishop, Turcotte found himself at the centre of a number of controversies. In early 2004, he said he would require candidates for the priesthood at a Montreal seminary to undergo HIV tests. He later rescinded the order, insisting it was not meant to keep gays out of the priesthood.
In 2008, he renounced the Order of Canada honour that had been bestowed upon him in 1996, because the same honour was being awarded to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the physician who fought to legalize abortion in Canada.
Turcotte later said that while he didn’t regret his decision, he could understand that in some cases, “one almost has no other choice" than abortion.
Responding to another recent controversy, the Canadian cardinal defended Pope Benedict XVI’s highly publicized remarks on condoms and AIDS. Turcotte said Benedict had not intended to say that condom use was always wrong but that "condoms are not by themselves the perfect solution."
Turcotte went on to say that in fact, condom use is morally obligatory for someone infected with AIDS. "When someone has AIDS," he said, "it is his duty to protect the people with whom he has relations."
The youngest of Canada’s cardinals, Thomas Collins, 65, is noted for being an energetic and accessible church leader who has dedicated himself to teaching and to keeping young people in the church’s fold. At the same time, he is also staunchly committed to the Church’s conservative values. In fact, Collins has flatly said in interviews that there isn’t anything in church doctrine or liturgy that he would change.
He’s been especially vocal on abortion, denouncing one-time-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for insisting the procedure be part of a federal maternal health policy for the developing world.
As Archbishop of Edmonton, Collins wrote a pastoral letter in 2005 expressing the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriages. He also told the Toronto Star that year that Catholic federal politicians who voted for the law might not be fit for communion because they had violated the Gospel.
Collins, a native of Guelph, Ont., has long been a dedicated student, managing to earn a Masters in English literature from the University of Western Ontario at the same time he was studying for the priesthood at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, Ont. He became a bishop after 20 years of pastoral service, and the Archbishop of Edmonton two years after that. He held that position for seven years, before becoming the Archbishop of Toronto – Canada’s largest diocese – at the end of 2006, where he continues to work today.
Collins has not shied away from the priest sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Church in recent years, and has encouraged other priests not to blame media outlets for the scandals, but to thank them for helping uncover it.
In 2010, he was appointed along with nine other bishops to help investigate the sex abuse crisis Ireland and report on the Church’s response there. Pope Benedict XVI also named him to the Vatican’s communications council, and the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education -- both appointments that many see as signs of the Vatican’s respect for his judgment and leadership.