Friday, November 06, 2009

Pope Engineers TO Church

Almost three years after Archbishop Thomas Collins took the helm of Canada's largest local church, this morning Pope Benedict named the cardinal-in-waiting's first two auxiliaries for the nearly 2 million-member Toronto archdiocese.

Canada's first Asian prelate, Bishop-elect Vincent Nguyen, 43, left his native Vietnam at 18, was ordained in 1998, completed a licentiate in canon law last year and, just last month, was named TO's moderator of the curia. Notably, in its announcement this morning, the Holy See said that one of Nguyen's great-grandfathers was among the 117 Vietnamese Martyrs, who were collectively canonized in 1988 by John Paul II.

The second pick, 50 year-old Fr William McGrattan, has served until today as rector of St Peter's Seminary in London, Ontario -- in which post he succeeded Collins on the archbishop's 1997 appointment as bishop of St Paul in Alberta. Ordained a priest in 1987, the bishop-elect served along the way in parish work and as a vocation director.

Notably, both appointees came to the priesthood from backgrounds in engineering; McGrattan earned his bachelor's in chemical, working both in the field and as a research assistant until his ordination, while Nguyen picked up his degree in electrical, entering a discernment house a year after graduation.

No ordination date has yet emerged for the duo -- and, per Northern custom, no Appointment Day presser takes place.

* * *
The appointments are Canada's first since mid-September's shocking resignation of Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish following the prelate's arrest on charges of possessing child pornography.

While a successor at the helm of the 150,000-member Nova Scotia diocese is said to be quickly in the offing, the scandal's fallout led the president of the Northern bench to dub the mood an "annus horribilis" at the Canadian bishops' recent plenary, while -- following reports that suspicions over Lahey's behavior were raised as far back as the late 1980s and never acted upon -- TC recently used his annual turn at Toronto's Cardinal's Dinner fundraiser to speak of the need for discernment:
Anyone who has participated in the awesome rites of ordination is conscious of the majesty of the priesthood of Christ, which He has chosen to share with frail humans, "vessels of clay" as St. Paul calls them, so that He might work through them in a sacramental way. I celebrate several ordinations each year, and every time I am filled with awe. When I place my hands upon the head of the candidate at the moment of ordination, I silently pray in my heart: "Lord, may this man be a faithful and holy priest all the days of his life."

To me, as a bishop, the pain of any priestly scandal is a sharp personal reminder that I need to do all that I can to be sure that those who are ordained, for all their inescapable human frailty, are living their vocation with integrity.

In our seminaries, over the long period of preparation for the priesthood, we continually strive to improve our procedures for solid human, intellectual, pastoral, and spiritual formation, so that only those candidates who are suited for the priesthood will proceed to ordination.

As for the choice of bishops, the process is extremely thorough, with detailed letters of reference from dozens of men and women. A thorough process, but not perfect. If no one in that extensive reference net is aware of a problem, it will be missed.

Those entrusted with discerning who should be ordained as priest or bishop need to be diligent, and to pray for wisdom, always aware that they might fail to spot an unsuitable candidate, especially if the problem is deep seated and hidden from everyone behind a splendid exterior.

As for improper behaviour by those already ordained, I and all of us who exercise authority in the Church have a solemn obligation to God and to the people we serve, especially to the most vulnerable, to act clearly and effectively if a problem is discovered, although also with great care that injustice not be done to an innocent person, whose name and life can be destroyed be a false accusation.

The basic reality is that in the sacrament of Holy Orders God works through frail humans, and always has done so, and always will. In the twelve apostles we see the whole range of raw material from the beloved disciple to Judas. As long as the human heart is susceptible to iniquity, we will face scandals among the apostles.