This was the week that was for pomp, ceremony and the election of a new pope; a new leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Heralding the announcement was the white smoke, the bells calling out to the faithful, and then the new pontiff stood on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square -- Pope Francis.
Now comes the hard part, the new man's 'Divine Mission': meeting the expectations, not just from his millions of followers but also from the wider world and the church's place in it. His most basic support begins with those who elected him.
In the wake of the naming of the new Pope, W5’s Tom Kennedy sat down with Canadian Cardinal Thomas Collins to discuss his views on Pope Francis, the future of the Catholic Church and just what occurred inside the papal conclave. A portion of that interview is being broadcast on W5 – as an update to our earlier report that looked at the pageantry and the process. Below is an edited transcript of their most recent conversation.
Tom Kennedy, W5: So, could you tell me Cardinal Collins, how well do you know the new Pope?
Cardinal Thomas Collins: Well I, I don’t know him personally. I’ve heard about him over the years and I know he’s a tremendous person. I’ve heard from other cardinals about him. But I really don’t know him personally.
Kennedy: The cardinals had dinner with him after his appearance on the balcony. What was the atmosphere like? What was it like when he came into the room?
Cardinal Collins: It was wonderful, you know, we had all been out there on the side balconies as he was giving his presentation to the people. And then, of course, we headed back. And then we were all waiting there and finally he was able to get back to us. And he came in the room and there was just a tremendous cheer. Clapping and you know –
Kennedy: Relief that it was all over?
Cardinal Collins: I think so, probably too. And he just went around; as he came through he was shaking hands and chatting with people. Then we just had a nice meal together.
Kennedy: Can you describe to me what kind of a man he is?
Cardinal Collins: I don’t personally know him that much. I think he’s just a very down to earth, very simple, plain, very simpatico kind of person. Very loving and very courageous in his proclamation of the faith. And I think, actually, he’s had a tremendous influence – from what I’ve heard from other cardinals and from what I’ve read – on the whole of the church in South America. I think he’s just a very pastoral loving shepherd of souls.
Kennedy: What can you tell us about the conclave?
Cardinal Collins: Not much. (Laughs)
Kennedy: Well, maybe explain why can you not tell us about what happened?
Cardinal Collins: Well, it’s not that it’s secret. It’s just that it’s private. There is a bit of a distinction. What happened in the conclave, it sort of looks like what you see at the very beginning, when you see a bunch of cardinals going up to the altar. So, that’s sort of visually what it looks like inside the conclave. And then we’re all in these desks along the side. There’s a kind of prayerful atmosphere. We begin with prayer, each session. We fast in the morning. We pray together. And then we enter into it. And then we just follow the stages that are outlined in the process for the conclave and that’s the secretive part – not really secretive – it’s a private, prayerful experience. And part of the idea is to be disconnected from –
Cardinal Collins: Well, yes, actually. It used to be imperial highnesses and lords and kings who would be kind of influencing the conclave. We had that in 1903, actually, (when) the Emperor of Austria vetoed a candidate. So, we want it to be as serene atmosphere of prayer where you don’t have a lot of buzz. And that’s precisely what it was.
Kennedy: We believe it was five ballots. Did you get a sense that this was over quickly from the inside or was your perspective that it was long?
Cardinal Collins: It proceeded at a wonderful pace, serenely, according to the way these things happen.
Kennedy: The name he chose, Pope Francis –
Cardinal Collins: Francis, yes.
Kennedy: He’s the first Pope to choose that name. What does that imply?
Cardinal Collins: Well, I think Francis of Assisi was a great saint. It’s interesting, because we all joked a bit about a Jesuit choosing the name of the founder of the Franciscans. But one of the Franciscan cardinals was pointing out that St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, one of his great desires was to be a saint like St. Francis. And so I suppose there is this kind of connection between the Ignatian tradition, which is really what Pope Francis was raised in as a Jesuit, and the Franciscan tradition.
Kennedy: This is the first time the name Pope Francis has been chosen. Does this imply do you think that the church is going to begin going in a new direction? Is there going to be any kind of change coming?
Cardinal Collins: Well, Pope John Paul the First, that was a new name as well. But I think that the fundamental reality is just that (Pope Francis) is a very faithful, holy, loving shepherd of souls. And that’s what a pope is. And we’ve been blessed with a spectacular series of popes for a long time back. Not always blessed, sometimes the Lord tests us. But I think that we’ve been given, by God’s grace, some wonderful popes.
Kennedy: I think what Catholics, even in your own archdiocese, are looking for is a change. You can ask anybody here in Rome as well, that they are looking at this new Pope and asking the question, does this mean the church is going to change on these hot button issues such as celibacy of the priesthood, human morals, et cetera, the role of women in the church? Do you get any sense at all that we could be at the crossroads?
Cardinal Collins: Well I think that the Pope will proclaim the gospel and the assumption behind your question is that teaching of the Catholic Church or the practice of the Catholic Church on these issues is against the gospel and it needs to be brought into line with the gospel.
Kennedy: I don’t mean to imply that.
Cardinal Collins: I don’t think it is. I think it is in fact a way of living the gospel. So those who, let’s say a person who does not agree with the teaching of the church would say, “We need a really good pope and a good pope would be one who would bring the teachings of the church into line with what I find to be the right thing.”
Cardinal Collins: In other words, bring to the teaching of the whole church into my –
Kennedy: Well, not the whole church. Specific issues.
Cardinal Collins: And I think that is our problem. The problem of this modern world is the implosion into the ego, this individualism. That’s the key issue. It’s not materialism. That’s the key issue. When people want to tailor the faith to their own desires, their own particular opinions, then I think we’re going on a short path to just nothingness, really.
Kennedy: So what does that mean? Are you saying that Catholics should not expect any fundamental changes on these basic issues of human morality?
Cardinal Collins: Well I think that on fundamental, on basic issues of human morality there cannot be.
Kennedy: And sexuality, as well?
Cardinal Collins: Well, part of that’s part of morality. Do you think there will be fundamental changes? No, because the teachings of the church are based on the teachings and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ, son of God. It is only those people who disagree, who are oppressed by the teachings of the church, who say: “This is bad, it doesn’t fit what I want. Change it.” And “I’m sure Jesus would have changed it.” You know, but that’s the Jesus they create out of their own imagination and their own will. The Jesus we follow from the gospel, and sometimes the message of the gospel impinges on all of us and it’s not like putty to be shaped. It’s a rock that we stand on.
Kennedy: But the fact is, we really don’t know him, do we? On these issues, take celibacy in the priesthood for example. We don’t really know what this Pope would do? It’s conceivable there could be changes.
Cardinal Collins: Well the issue of celibacy is different from some of the other issues you’re mentioning. We obviously have married priests because that’s part of the tradition of the church. The spiritual tradition of the Latin church and indeed going back to the earliest days is consecrated virginity in the service of Christ the King. And whether that will be changed, I don’t think it will. Over the years, I’ve thought about it. You know there could be changes in the discipline, but the more I reflect on it, the more I see it as an evangelical sign that’s much to be treasured and much to be celebrated.
Kennedy: But there’s a new Pope and perhaps a new interpretation.
Cardinal Collins: Well, he could. For example, Pope Pius the XII, people who look upon the church authoritarian look upon him as sort of a negative figure; he is the one who basically introduced the change to have Protestant clerics become Catholics, who have become Catholic priests, to be married. So that was Pius the XII. So, we’ve had that for fifty, sixty years, and there are of course the Eastern churches and so on. But what the Pope would do on disciplinary matters, I really don’t know. But on matters of faith, on matters of faith and morals, not discipline –
Kennedy: Don’t expect any significant changes?
Cardinal Collins: Because they are based on teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, present on earth giving us the gospel, who walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem, who speaks to us down through the ages. So, a lot of people say “Gosh, I wish would, let’s this or that. Because I want it this way. Gosh, I want it. Why can’t I do it?” I always say there’s music in hell and the only song you have in hell is I Did It My Way.
Kennedy: The management of the difficulties in the Vatican and the management of the Vatican, top levels of the Vatican bureaucracy, even cardinals are saying this is a serious issue and that in fact for decades people have been looking at the need to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Do you think the Pope is sensitive to these issues and do you think that there could be things happening there?
Cardinal Collins: Well, all the different issues that we face at the church, the administration of the Vatican is obviously an important issue and I think that that’s a thing, like all the other different issues, that need to be dealt with. I think, I think he needs a bit of a break though. He’s just starting out.
Kennedy: Was there any sort of consensus among the cardinals that this is a very important issue facing the next pope?
Cardinal Collins: We had wonderful meetings over a period of a week or so on many different issues facing the church.
Kennedy: Including the Vatican bureaucracy?
Cardinal Collins: On many different issues facing the church. There’s a whole range of things and I think that was the great blessing. That was of course Catholicism 101, you know, sitting there.
Kennedy: Did you pass?
Cardinal Collins: Oh, I don’t know. But 150, whatever it is was talks, you know, going on. But listening to them, it was just exhausting because you have one after another. Oh, you learn so much. And it’s inspiring. It’s just like, wow! You get a sense of the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Bergoglio was sitting there just down about four below and one to the left from where I was. And, we were all hearing this. So, together we have all had many perspectives of almost every possible dimension you could think of. There’s no school for pope, but I think if there is one, that’s it. It’s a smart idea.
Kennedy: Do you know that there are many Canadians who were hoping that there would be a Canadian pope. And I think that a lot of Canadians thought that this time around there actually could be a Canadian pope, and Cardinal Ouellet was a strong candidate.
Cardinal Collins: The front runner?
Kennedy: But people were also mentioning your name. It was coming up more and more during the conclave. Now, you can dismiss it, but in fact it –
Cardinal Collins: I’ve been out of touch; I’ve been in a conclave. I didn’t realize. (Laughs)
Kennedy: You can read about it when you get home.
Cardinal Collins: I’ll read about it after.
Kennedy: What do you say to those Canadians who thought and had really wished for a Canadian pope and perhaps you as well?
Cardinal Collins: Well, I think every country, I’m sure in Argentina they must be rejoicing at an Argentinian as Pope. I think any country rejoices to have one of its citizens become Pope.
We’re not a national church. There is no church of Canada. There is the Church- comma-in-Canada. That comma is very important. We had a Reformation on that and we disagreed on that.
Kennedy: So, it wouldn’t have made any difference to you whether it’s a Canadian?
Cardinal Collins: Oh, I think I would’ve been, any citizen of a country would rejoice at one of their fellow citizens becoming Pope. You know, I think we all would. But we rejoiced as Catholics in Pope Francis, our beloved, our Holy Father.
Kennedy: Thank you, very much.
Cardinal Collins: OK. Pleasure.