WCR FILE PHOTO
Bishop Remi De Roo was a much sought-after speaker during his heyday as the outspoken bishop of Victoria.
Bishop Remi De Roo is well known for his enthusiastic support of the renewed vision of the Second Vatican Council, which he says transformed him and the Church.
The 88-year-old emeritus bishop of Victoria is also known as an outspoken prelate who embraced liberation theology and threw his support behind the ordination of women and married men to the Catholic priesthood.
For his 37 years as spiritual leader of the Victoria Diocese, De Roo was a celebrity and was often invited to speak publicly on these controversial topics.
In time, however, he learned his stances were not always popular with the Vatican hierarchy, who chastised him more than once.
In the 1960s De Roo was called on the carpet by Vatican officials for his support of a congregation of defiant nuns from Los Angeles.
One Vatican official chastised De Roo and asked him why a young and gifted bishop with a brilliant future ahead of him would risk his career for the benefit of those women.
"I sensed at that time (and was correct) that I would never be moved from Victoria, but have not regretted taking the sisters' side in the struggle to make moral choices on the basis of conscience for women – and men – in the Church," De Roo says in his recently released autobiography Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop.
It wouldn't be the last time De Roo would be reprimanded. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, once called De Roo to Rome to admonish him for speaking on the ordination of women in Washington, D.C., in 1986.
"This was not to be a joyous encounter," De Roo recalled. "I was not alone in finding it galling to be treated like an errant schoolboy on what was supposed to be my 'home turf.'"
Years later, during a luncheon, De Roo said Pope John Paul II purposely ignored his request to speak about the ordination of mature married men in areas deprived of priests.
As De Roo insisted, the pope turned and glared at him, "then banged deliberately on the table with his right fist holding the knife handle. In a loud and emphatic tone of voice he declared, 'Deus providebit!' (God will provide!). That was, sadly, the end of the exchange."
De Roo's autobiography comes out as he marks 50 years as a bishop.
In a truncated telephone interview as he travelled on a bus from Nanaimo to Victoria, De Roo said he wrote his memoirs at the urging of friends and acquaintances who convinced him that his life has been so rich in meaningful experiences he had a duty to share it.
In the book, published by Novalis, he touches on the financial scandal that came to light near the end of his term.
His diocese bought shares in a U.S. consortium involving Arabian horses. When the horse market collapsed, the diocese lost all or most of the money it had invested.
To recoup the lost money, the diocese's finance officer persuaded De Roo to invest in real estate. The diocese then bought a large parcel of property in Washington State. The property didn't sell as quickly as the finance officer predicted and the Lacey land "saga" started.
"Interest costs continued to accumulate, creating a serious threat for the diocese," De Roo writes. "I realized in retrospect that I had had a lapse in judgment in not foreseeing the dangers that lurked in this venture."
When the issue became public, De Roo said he experienced the darkest and most painful period of his life.
De Roo was a 38-year-old Manitoba priest when he was appointed bishop of Victoria in 1962 and became the youngest Canadian bishop to participate in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He was active in all four sessions of the council and addressed it on four occasions.
In his book, he describes how his participation in the council influenced his episcopate and the Canadian Church.
He would lead his diocese "according to the vision of the saintly Pope John XXIII and to the aspirations contained in the documents of Vatican II."
At the close of his chronicles, De Roo reiterates his support for the vision of the council. "Vatican II enriched my life by deepening my faith and increasing my sense of reverence and awe in contemplating the divine plan of salvation."
De Roo submitted his mandatory resignation in 1999, at the age of 75. As one of the few surviving council fathers, he continues to lecture on the vision of the council.