"I've a strong impression I’m dreaming,” he said a month ago when he was chosen by Pope John Paul II to become the second cardinal in Toronto’s history. But the reality came
last Saturday behind closed doors—even he had to wait in another room—as the gathered cardinals in St.
Peter’s Basilica removed their bright scarlet birettas, in the historic sign of approval of the Pope’s choice. So it was, as if it had been written, that Gerald Emmett Carter, son of Thomas Carter, a Montreal linotype operator, became a prince of the church, a member of the most exclusive club in the world, the College of Cardinals.
And this Sundayafter being invested and clothed in the scarlet robes, after having celebrated mass on the steps of St. Peter’s on Canada Day—he flew home on a plane chartered for friends and guests. Later, on Thursday, a liturgical ceremony of reception (tickets only) was to be held in St. Michael’s Cathedral for representatives of church and state, and at night a pontifical mass was planned for
15,000 communicants in Varsity Stadium.
Carter is Canada’s fourth cardinal. The others are Maurice Cardinal Roy of Quebec City, George Cardinal Flahiff of Winnipeg and Paul Emile Cardinal Léger of Montreal who retired in 1968 to serve at a leper colony in Africa. Between them, they govern the church in Canada. “It was very courageous of the Pope,” Carter says. “We already have three. This gives us more, proportionately, than any other country in the world.”
From that statement it sounds as if the appointment was a surprise to Carter. Perhaps it was, but it was not unex-
pected to many lay people and clergy in the diocese. It seemed time. James Cardinal McGuigan was Toronto’s first cardinal. He died in 1974 after a long illness and during his last years, until last June, in fact, Archbishop Philip Pocock was the spiritual leader of the dio-
cese. Some thought he would be named a cardinal, but it wasn’t to be. “I wasn’t called,” Pocock said simply.
Carter is quite unlike his predecessor in style. Pocock was a gentle man who had an almost mysterious sense of peace about him. Carter, at 67, has a more jovial, businesslike air. If he weren’t a high-powered churchman, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine him as a high-powered cabinet minister or a dynamic member of a corporate board of directors.
Born in Montreal, Carter is of Irish stock, one of eight children, four of
whom went into the church. His brother, Alexander, is the Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie and at one time, when Carter was Bishop of London, Ontario, the two were the only brothers in the world to be full bishops at the same time. “There’s always been a sense of competition between the two of us,” Carter says. “He’s three years older than me. So he was three years bigger than me when we were growing up and I got the short end of it, but the time came when I realized I could stand up to him. There’s always been competitionhockey and games, at the seminary in studies—and we argue about anything, but on fundamental issues we see eye to eye.”
He called his brother the day after he was appointed and said: “I know your attitude to honors. I know you’re not going to get too excited, but I thought you would like to hear from me that the Holy Father has decided to name me a cardinal.” His brother replied: “Oh, great!” But he did not go to Rome to witness his brother’s investment.
Carter’s rise to the top is littered with honors, degrees and the accomplishments of a learned man. He was ordained in 1937 and spent his first 25 years in the priesthood working in various areas of education. He founded St. Joseph’s Teachers College in Montreal —a college for English-speaking Catholics—and was a member of the Montreal Catholic School Board for 15 years. He was a professor of catechetics and wrote three books. He was named Auxiliary Bishop of London in 1961 and became full bishop of the see in 1964. He was active in the Vatican Council and was a member of various liturgical commissions and chairman of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy. Last year, he was
appointed Archbishop of Toronto.
While he was in London, the Pope, then Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, stayed with him a couple of days, and a short time later in 1977 he visited Wojtyla in Poland, where the two men walked through the streets of Krakow in a procession that lasted four hours. Carter recalls that the people were wildly en-
thusiastic, displaying religious signs and ornaments from their houses, using public-address systems, all of which was against the law. Carter asked Wojtyla about the law and he replied: “I forgot.”
Carter dislikes labels, but he does describe himself as a pragmatist “in the good sense of the term. You can have the pragmatist who has no principles. In other words, he just does what he thinks is the most expedient for the time. I would hate to think that I am anything like that. I believe I have very firm and strong principles and I am prepared to stand on them. It’s a question of what is the issue, not where you stand before the issue is even addressed.
If you think people are going too fast, too far in one direction, and you want to be a leader, then, if necessary, you have to be prepared to be hurt going the other way.”
Carter was a progressive at the Vatican Council in the ’60s but, like so many of the church’s leaders, he was seen as a conservative once it had ended. “I didn’t drag my feet in the council, but after the council there were a lot of people who misread the things that had happened. They put words in the mouths of the fathers of the council that never existed and they attributed intentions to us
which we never had. So then I said ‘Just a minute, hold it, wait!’ ”
Many priests left the church in that period. They had various complaints. Celibacy was one. Dissent was widespread. It is one of Carter’s favorite themes—“the theologians of dissent.” He predicts the 1980s will be a period of reaffirmation of faith. “We have had
enough confusion, enough of confrontation, enough of dissent. We are the believers. Those who go looking for dissent are not Catholic.”
At a time when perhaps he should be optimistic, full of the challenge of the future, Carter talks sadly, almost with despair, about the world around him.
“Our civilization is a civilization of despair, discouragement and just plain T don’t give a damn.’ That worries me more than anything else. And I think if the church has anything to say and anything to do, it’s there. We’ve got to try to re-inspire our people with a sense of purpose, particularly the young. They have become bored and depressed. We have to give people a challenge. When I look around me I see people whose only purpose in life is to have two or three cars or an extra swimming pool, and everybody is bored. We’re in a bored society and if we’re not careful somebody is going to come along who is not bored and take it away from us. We have already taken away from ourselves a sense of purpose.”
What he says is true, perhaps, but certainly it is not the reality of Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter. “The church can do something about re-instilling in humanity some sense of dedication, some passion for things that are other than material values. That is the task.”
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