OTTAWA (CCN) — The years of suffering from “severe chronic pain” have finally forced Calgary Bishop Fred Henry to give up his ministry.
Pope Francis accepted Henry’s resignation for health reasons and named Peterborough Bishop William McGrattan as his replacement on Jan. 4
In Henry’s resignation letter to the pope, which he submitted in February of 2016, the 73-year-old bishop explained that he has been dealing with a painful auto immune disease that causes a form of arthritis affecting his spine.
“I can no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right,” he wrote Pope Francis. “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.”
The illness has also caused painful flare-ups of inflammation in other parts of his body, including his eyes, and reduced his lung capacity.
Henry wrote that he lived with “severe chronic pain.” He is stepping down two years short of the mandatory retirement age of 75 set by Canon Law.
“My condition cannot be reversed,” he told Francis. “I have jokingly said that ‘pain is my best friend, we are always together,’ but it is wearing me out and limiting my ministry,” he said.
“I believe that someone younger with more energy, stamina and pastoral vision should take over the role of Ordinary for the Diocese of Calgary,” he wrote. “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,” he wrote, proposing his retirement take place at the end of 2016.
The outspoken and controversial bishop led the Calgary diocese for 19 years. Though dubbed conservative and when it came to moral issues surrounding abortion, marriage and, most recently, in his opposition to gender theory and transgender guidelines for public schools, Henry also gained the ire of some conservatives for his support of social justice issues.
During the debate leading to the redefinition of marriage in 2005, Henry faced human rights complaints for a pastoral letter defending traditional marriage that also ran as a column in a local newspaper. Those complaints were later dropped after mediation. In 2004 he received phone calls from Revenue Canada that threatened his diocese’s tax status for his defence of Catholic teaching in the public square.
In 2000, Henry clashed with Conrad Black, then-owner of the Calgary Herald, over a five-month strike at the newspaper. Henry urged him to negotiate with the workers. Black responded by calling him a “useful idiot,” among other insults.
That same year, in the National Post, founded and then owned by Black, the late conservative publisher and columnist Ted Byfield wrote a column calling him “Red Freddy” and a “pinko bishop,” insults that gained coverage in the New York Times. Christian leaders in Calgary rallied in support of Henry, calling the attacks “outrageous” and “unchristian.”
Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said he was pleased for Henry’s sake the pope had accepted the resignation, but he admitted feelings of “sadness and regret.”
“As I heard another bishop put it, it feels like we’ve just lost from the team one of our most important players!” Smith wrote on his blog.
“Bishop Henry has served not only his diocese but also the church in Canada exceptionally well,” Smith said. “Of particular note is the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country. I consider it a blessing and privilege to have worked closely with Bishop Henry, from whom I have learned a great deal.”
Smith praised Henry’s “courageous preaching of the Gospel.”
“Where others might be tempted to stay silent for fear of criticism or loss of popularity, Bishop Henry has not hesitated to speak the truths of our faith whenever required, however difficult the circumstances might be,” Smith wrote. “Indeed, a shepherd who cares for the people entrusted to him cannot do otherwise, and I know that Bishop Henry cares very deeply indeed.”
“I thank Bishop Henry for his service and will fondly remember him for his faithfulness and loyalty,” said Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller. “He has been a hard-working, dedicated bishop who was never afraid to take a tough stand on a controversial issue.”
“My prayers and best wishes are with Bishop Henry as he retires after so many years of faithful service,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto. He has been an exceptional bishop and I will always be grateful for his fraternal support.”
“Having worked closely with Bishop McGrattan, I know that he will bring many fine gifts and talents to the people of Calgary,” the cardinal said. “We will miss his valuable contributions in Ontario but are heartened in knowing he will be passionately engaged in the life of the faithful in Alberta.”
Born in London, Ont., in 1943, Henry was ordained a priest in the London diocese in 1968. In 1986 Saint Pope John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of the London diocese.
In 1995 he was appointed Bishop of the Thunder Bay diocese. Three years later, in 1998, he was named to Calgary. The Calgary diocese has 67 parishes and missions serving a Catholic population of 435,328. It has 153 diocesan priests, 37 religious priests, 46 permanent deacons, 104 religious sisters and brothers, according to the Canadian Catholic Church Directory 2016.