CALGARY — The Calgary bishop known for his hardline stances on protections for LGBTQ youth and the HPV vaccine says he is leaving the role he has held for almost two decades due to ailing health.
In his resignation letter to Pope Francis posted Wednesday on the Calgary Catholic Diocese website, Most Rev. Fred Henry said he has an incurable type of arthritis that is also an autoimmune disease.
A spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says the church usually requires bishops to resign at 75.
Henry, who is 73, said he started writing the letter to the pontiff more than three years ago. He said when he was 35, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which has severely reduced mobility in his spine over time.
“I can no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right,” Henry wrote.
“In addition, I can’t really look up but have a permanent stoop and my feet are much more familiar to me than the sky.”
He said the inflammation from the disease has also affected his eyes and lungs while his hearing has been diminished.
“My condition cannot be reversed. I have jokingly said that ‘pain is my best friend, we are always together’ but it is wearing me out and limiting my ministry,” Henry wrote.
“I believe that someone younger with more energy, stamina and pastoral vision should take over the role of Ordinary for the Diocese of Calgary.
“The needs of this ever-expanding diocese are enormous. I have given it my best and I am past my ‘best due date’ — it is time to retire.”
The pontiff has appointed Most Rev. William Terrence McGrattan, bishop of the Peterborough, Ont., diocese, to succeed Henry.
McGrattan, who is 60 and a native of London, Ont., is to be installed in Calgary on Feb. 27.
Henry, who oversaw 67 parishes and missions with a Catholic population of more than 435,000, was one of three Catholic bishops to criticize the Alberta government last year over its plans to protect LGBTQ students in schools, particularly transgender children.
“Totalitarianism is alive and well in Alberta,” Henry wrote in a public letter to his faithful last year.
“This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular, narrow-minded, anti-Catholic ideology … and must be rejected.”
Education Minister Dave Eggen later said he had reached common ground with the religious leaders, based on a shared concern for having safe and caring schools.
Kristopher Wells, with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at University of Alberta, said he hopes the tone will be different when McGrattan takes over.
“Bishop Henry has certainly been no friend to the LGBT community and has been, I think, constantly out of step with progressive values of the majority of Albertans,” said Wells, an assistant professor at the university.
“I really hope that a new bishop will seek to build bridges and use faith as a way to include rather than exclude.”
Henry was also staunchly opposed to administering a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, in schools. HPV is the primary cause of genital warts and leads to most cases of cervical cancer.
Juliet Guichon, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in bioethics, said she wishes Henry well in the next phase of his life, but believes he was misguided on issues such as the HPV vaccine.
“He lacked important information and he might have engaged with the health-care community, but he chose not to despite requests,” she said.
“I hope that the incoming bishop engages with Catholics and the greater community and focuses on Pope Francis’ main messages, which are mercy, love and following one’s conscience.”
Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, speaking on behalf of the NDP government, said Henry has been a strong advocate for climate change action and poverty reduction initiatives.
As for the LGBTQ issue, Phillips said “he was to be accountable to his folks and we have to be accountable for safety of children in classrooms.”
“People are not always going to agree in a democracy, and that’s OK.”