New Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins Dismisses Vatican Controversy, Pope Plot

By Sandro Contenta
Toronto Star
February 18, 2012

From a rooftop overlooking St. Peter's Square in Rome, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, right, speaks via Skype with students in Canada on Wednesday as Archdiocese communications director Neil MacCarthy helps out.

With a new ring and red hat, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins becomes a prince of the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday, a cardinal in the elite group that will choose the next pope.

Collins expects a moving ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica, where Pope Benedict XVI will “create” 22 new cardinals. But the down-to-earth cardinal-designate, who will now be known as “His Eminence,” also anticipates moments of unease.

“It’s a rather complex liturgical ceremony and I always feel a little bit lost in things like that,” Collins, 65, said in a recent interview with the Star. “But I’m sure there will be people who will tell you where to stand and what to do.”

A group of 200 friends, family and supporters who flew in from Canada will help Collins feel comfortable. “It’ll be a beautiful experience,” he said.

But the normally joyous ceremony is being held under a cloud of embarrassing leaks about corruption in the Vatican and a plot to kill Pope Benedict. Most observers believe the leaks are the result of a power struggle in the Vatican, one that has fuelled speculation about jostling to succeed the 84-year-old Benedict.

“It’s not the best of climates, there’s no doubt about that,” Most Rev. Vincenzo Paglia, bishop of the central Italian Diocese of Terni, said in a phone interview.

The infighting also comes as church authorities watch pews empty in Western countries. Sex-abuse scandals and the Vatican’s rigid positions on issues like divorce, contraceptives and a ban on women priests are partly to blame. On Friday, the Pope and cardinals discussed ways to stem the exodus with a process called the “new evangelization.”

“It’s the effort to reach out especially to those parts of the church which have grown cold in the faith or have lost some of the fire of the faith,” Collins told the Catholic Salt + Light cable network. “There’s a real need for that in some parts of the world.”

The process should start with cardinals urging the Pope to restore order in the Vatican, observers say.

“They should say, ‘Holy Father, this is a mess,’” says Alberto Melloni, a Catholic Church historian at the University of Modena, in Italy, and a leading analyst on the Vatican.

Melloni believes the scandals are an attempt to push the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, out of his job.

Bertone, who also heads the Vatican’s bureaucracy, is a close confidante of the Pope. Unlike his predecessor, he did not emerge from the ranks of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. Some blame him for a pontificate that has been marked by missteps and controversy, including the 2009 reintegration into the church of a Holocaust-denying renegade bishop.

Detractors also suspect Bertone of plotting to ensure that the next pope is Italian. They note that seven of the 18 new “cardinal electors” — those allowed to vote for a new pope because they’re under 80 years old — are Italian. And all but one of them worked for Bertone.

Some have described all 22 appointments to the new College of Cardinals as another sign of an out-of-touch pontificate. Most come from Western countries, where church attendance is plummeting. Areas where Catholicism is growing or dominant — Latin America, Africa, and Asia — were largely overlooked.

There is also speculation that Bertone, 77, might be positioning himself for the job of spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. But Melloni believes cardinals at the next conclave will likely want a younger pope, one who can bring long-term stability after Benedict dies.

Whatever Bertone’s intentions, his administration has been rocked by a steady drip of leaks to the media during the past three weeks.

First there were private letters to the Pope, written in 2011 by the Vatican’s deputy governor, complaining of corruption and cronyism in the awarding of contracts. Documents then emerged reigniting allegations of money laundering at the Vatican’s bank. Finally a bizarre confidential letter from a Vatican official described a presumed plot to kill Benedict and discussed his potential successor.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesperson, confirmed the documents as authentic while repeatedly trying to control the damage.

“Certainly there’s something sad in the fact that internal documents are being passed in a disloyal fashion to the outside, in order to create confusion,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio earlier this week.

Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center in Washington D.C., says the leaks likely come from Vatican clergy disgruntled at watching Bertone’s proteges leapfrog over them for promotions.

“This is their way of getting back at him,” he said.

Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, downplayed the scandals.

“Every organization has its own set of challenges and politics — the church is not immune to that,” he said in an email. “These stories have a habit of emerging just before big events at the Vatican.”

Collins did not respond to email questions about the incidents. But in a recent interview, he dismissed descriptions of the Vatican as rife with backstabbing.

“They really are just simply trying to serve our Lord,” he said of high-ranking Vatican officials. “It’s not what you see in the movies.”

At the consistory ceremony, Collins and other new cardinals will be asked to promise “not to make known to anyone matters entrusted to me in confidence, the disclosure of which could bring damage or dishonour to the Holy Church.”

It’s an oath not everyone at the Vatican is respecting these days.








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