He decried gays and politicians, abortion and gambling. Whatever the issue, whatever the fallout, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry was never afraid of using the media to speak his mind as freely as if he was delivering a Sunday sermon.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops made news of its own by announcing that Pope Francis "had accepted [Bishop Henry's] resignation and appointed William Terrence McGrattan to the position" in Calgary. It was Bishop Henry's choice to step down as the leading Catholic authority in the city, a position he had held since 1998.
At 73, Bishop Henry said he was so hampered by ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis, that he felt he could no longer perform his duties. In an online letter he sent to Pope Francis, he wrote he could "no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right. 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."
It was never a no-news day when the media paid Bishop Henry a visit. Depending on the day and the topic, he could stir up the embers like no one else. Politicians were regularly roasted.
In 2004, he said prime minister Paul Martin was being a bad Catholic for supporting same-sex marriage and abortion. Later, when Jean Chrétien was prime minister and also supported same-sex marriage, Bishop Henry said, "He doesn't understand what it means to be a good Catholic … He's putting at risk his eternal salvation."
The bishop called Justin Trudeau's eulogy to his father "good television. Some would even say good politics. Nevertheless, it was also bad liturgy."
Most recently, Bishop Henry had taken issue with Alberta Education and its revised gender guidelines, which he described as "anti-Catholic" and "totalitarianism." Bishop 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 the plan to protect LGBTQ students in schools, particularly transgender children.
"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," he wrote in a public letter to his faithful last year.
Education Minister David Eggen later said he had reached common ground with the religious leaders, based on a shared concern for having safe and caring schools.
Bishop 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 Bishop 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's main messages, which are mercy, love and following one's conscience."
Father Stephen Penna, a professor and vice-president at Edmonton's Newman Theological College, backed Bishop Henry, saying, "When people say, 'This is 2016. Get over this God thing. Get over bringing this sense of the transcended into our schools.' Well, someone has to say, 'Be very careful, because if you eliminate the transcended view, a larger view, a passion of what the world is all about, then you render people very vulnerable to being manipulated.'"
Not all of the bishop's missives were contentious. He approved of Pope Francis's call for action on climate change and the end of fossil fuel usage. He insisted it was time to consider what kind of world we will be leaving for the next generation.
As the man replacing him, Bishop McGrattan will officially take over next month. Bishop Henry welcomed the change in typically honest fashion, saying, "I am past my 'best due date.'"