The bishop always had a way with words. It is just one of the reasons he has been greatly admired and will be so missed, perhaps even by media outlets which frequently misunderstood him and the Church he so faithfully served for almost half a century.
His retirement was announced by the Vatican on Jan. 4. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, initial media reports seemed to suggest Francis accepted Henry’s early retirement due to the bishop’s unvarnished objection to integrating transgender programs into Alberta schools. In other words, Francis was at odds with his bishop. Of course that is nonsense and it became clear that Henry, 73, sought early retirement due to a painful, incurable type of arthritis that has rendered him physically incapable of meeting the demands of a bishop’s schedule.
“I have given it my best and I am past my best due date — it is time to retire,” Henry wrote to Francis.
So ends the active career of a bishop who never shied from the public square. Proudly, loudly and at times defiantly, Henry embraced a call to infuse his flock with courage by leading them as a vocal defender of the faith. Over almost two decades in Calgary, despite frequent criticism in a culture prone to swap Catholic values for the so-called “progressive” secular morality, Henry embraced the challenge to clearly, often bluntly, preach the truth of Church teaching.
He confronted issues head on, vocally opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption, contraception, transgender expression, promiscuity, gambling and euthanasia. In every case he bucked prevailing social trends and was denounced by a cabal of often-belligerent media, public figures and advocacy groups.
Never ambiguous and uncompromising on matters of faith, diplomacy may not have been his strong suit. Justin Trudeau was referred to as “tweedledum-dumb” in 2014 when he mandated that all Liberal candidates support abortion. A year ago Henry suggested transgender guidelines for Alberta schools were “totalitarian” and the product of “narrow-minded, anti-Catholic theology.”
But much less discussed was Henry’s personal and constant outreach to the poor, refugees, immigrants and workers. He did that work quietly, as a bishop should. Defend the faith boldly, live the faith humbly. As bishop, he spent equal energy defending Church doctrine and promoting social teachings that promote the creation of a just society. In that sense, he was very much a bishop in the Francis mould.
Calgary was blessed to have him for 19 years.