The appointment reported below was formally announced
at Roman Noon on Monday, 7 November – the installation is scheduled for Friday, 6 January.)
Fifteen years ago this autumn, at the installation of his successor in Newark, the newly-created Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington memorably tipped his red hat to the North Jersey crowd – a gesture intended to say that he owed the scarlet to them.
And now, it appears Uncle Ted has fully returned the favor, landing a cardinal to lead the 1.3 million-member fold in its own right.
In a watershed decision signaling a new era after the controversial reign of Archbishop John Myers, on Monday the Pope is prepared to name Cardinal-designate Joseph William Tobin CSSR – the 64 year-old archbishop of Indianapolis whose impending elevation
at this month's consistory stoked widespread shock – as head of New Jersey's marquee diocese, which has been roiled by years of tumult and low morale following assertions of the Newark church's lax handling of cases of clerical misconduct, coupled with broad distaste over Myers' austere, distant management style.
To be sure, the reported nod isn't merely a blockbuster, but even more historic than the Cubs winning the World Series – never before has an American cardinal been transferred from one diocese to another... and with New York just across the Hudson River, the move portends an ecclesiastical scenario heretofore unseen on these shores nor anywhere else in the Catholic world: two cardinals leading their own local churches not just side-by-side, but within the same media market.
While the move was reported late Friday night by the online affiliate
of the local Star-Ledger, after credible yet unconfirmed word of the nod was received by Whispers
early Thursday, two ranking ops ducked comment on the pick in deference to the pontifical seal, and – as the notoriously leak-prone Newark crowd went into overdrive on Friday – a document from the archdiocese's Chancery was obtained by these pages bearing Tobin's name. (Complain all you want, but this house has its due diligence to carry out.) On a separate front, late Friday the archdiocese alerted reporters to a press conference scheduled for 10.30am Monday in the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart – keeping with standard practice on a yet-unannounced appointment, the event's topic was not disclosed.
Having reached the retirement age of 75 in July, a quick succession for Myers has long been anticipated, even in the wake of Archbishop Bernard Hebda's transfer to the Twin Cities
earlier this year after 28 months in waiting
as a coadjutor who had been kept as looped-out of the governance of the wildly complex archdiocese as he was beloved among its priests and people. Since the younger prelate's move to an even more beleaguered posting was only made possible due to Myers' drive to remain in office until the canonical age-limit kicked in, Hebda's departure brought the frustration and "depression" among wide swaths of Newark's clergy and laity to a near breaking-point.
In Bernie's stead, Joe Tobin – who takes the chair of the US bishops' arm for clergy, religious and vocations later this month – is likewise being sent in with no less of a mandate for healing. If anything, that task has now become all the more high-profile given the appointee's newfound prominence. Still, considering the former Redemptorist chief's experience as an inner-city pastor in Detroit and Chicago, a deep history with Hispanics (who comprise almost half the Newark fold) and a more gregarious personality than Francis' first intended choice for the post, the new cardinal might just make for an even happier and more comfortable fit than Hebda had already well proven to be.
On another front, Tobin's reputation as a champion of women religious over his two-year stint as #2 of the Vatican's "Congregation for Religious" makes the significant presence of female orders and motherhouses in the archdiocese the proverbial "icing on the cake"... and, indeed, that Newark's vast roster of institutions includes one of the few diocesan-owned universities (Seton Hall) as well as two major seminaries and a college-level one serves to underscore the outsize impact its archbishop has not merely on the life of his charge, but with the reach of its entities, even beyond.
As reported at the top, multiple signs point to Newark's fourth archbishop as the lead architect behind the choice of his second successor. Having maintained an enduring devotion for and among the Jersey church since his transfer to the capital in 2000, McCarrick – who Francis is said to revere as "a hero" of his – made a direct appeal over recent weeks for Tobin to be named to Newark, according to two sources familiar with the cardinal's thinking.
Beyond the Ted-push, with the Pope ostensibly alerted to the archdiocese's troubled state, Francis reportedly took the rare step of soliciting impressions on the Newark church from outside the normal bounds of the appointment process at its final stages. In the US, a similar degree of wider consultation is known to have been sought from the Domus in just one other instance – the 2014 selection of Blase Cupich, now likewise a cardinal-designate, for Chicago. Given the more than decade-old bond between the now-pontiff and Tobin, however, this choice can be seen as Papa Bergoglio's most personal move in the American hierarchy's top rank to date – as one well-traveled cleric who knows the Redemptorist summed it up, for all intents and purposes, "Tobin is
Beyond the confines of the North Jersey church – an almost unparalleled concentration of diverse, often poor and violent urban areas but a mile or two from some of the country's wealthiest suburbs, yet all a "periphery" in the shadow of New York – the move sets the stage for an extraordinary power dynamic without precedent anywhere: two cardinals overseeing dioceses separated only by a river, and sharing the US' largest and most influential media market, to boot.
While Tobin and the Big Apple Cardinal Timothy Dolan would remain ecclesially independent of each other as heads of their own provinces, the public interplay between the two garrulous, larger-than-life Irishmen – whose shared lack of shyness is punctuated by a more than occasional difference of approach to church life – is likely to prove more fascinating than not. Put another way, given memories of the famously bitter rivalry across the Hudson between McCarrick and the late John Cardinal O'Connor in the 1980s and '90s, the prospect of tensions between their modern heirs would easily give the earlier feud a run for its money.
As contrasts go between the cardinal-designate and his ostensible predecessor in Jersey, meanwhile, where Tobin remarked about getting "sweaty hugs" from fellow patrons of the Indy gym he goes to after word of his elevation spread, one could more easily envision Myers building a workout space for himself.... Then again, that might've already happened given the "wellness room" component of a reported $500,000 expansion
of the countryside home the archbishop plans to use in his retirement – a disclosure which served to further fuel local discontent.
Along the same lines, as the tipped pick has happily tooled around the Indianapolis church – which, beyond its metro-area core, stretches across Indiana's heavily-rural and mostly-Protestant southern tier – on his own in a pickup truck, how Tobin will take to the police driver and escort long accorded to Newark's chief shepherd is, at best, an open question. (Amid some of the nation's most intense traffic at any given hour, archdiocesan officials have long maintained that the perk is a necessity to keep the ordinary running on time to fulfill a normal schedule of events.)
All that said, another contrast might just be the most poetic. While Myers has long embraced the style of "His Grace" (the traditional English honorific for archbishops and dukes) in reference to himself, Tobin told Indy's diocesan Criterion
that when his venerable mother, Marie-Terese, mused upon word of his elevation about how...
On second thought, best to let the eldest of her 13 kids
tell the tale:
* * *
With two weeks still to go before he formally receives the red hat in Rome, Tobin has already taken to punching his new weight, hitting the road since his elevation was announced to hold a series of previously-scheduled talks on the plight of Syrian refugees, in the process sparing little criticism of public officials for a lack of courage and the media for ginning up unfounded fears of terrorism on the part of the migrants.
Beyond a concerted soothing of nerves in one of US Catholicism's ten largest outposts, among other challenges awaiting Newark's Sixth Archbishop include the future sustainability and shape of the North Jersey church's ample school system, the ongoing flow of new migrants into diocesan life (with their according need for all sorts of services), and on the state level, leading the church's fight against two significant, ongoing legislative efforts before the General Assembly in Trenton: the respective pushes to legalize assisted suicide and retroactively reopen the Garden State's statute of limitations on the filing of sex-abuse lawsuits.
Though Newark has been the most feverishly anticipated move of the current Stateside docket, it bears recalling that the Pope's picks for two other critical million-plus sees remain pending: Long Island's 1.5 million-member fold based in Rockville Centre, and what's arguably the most important of the entire bunch – the succession to Rome's new Laity Czar, Cardinal-designate Kevin Farrell
, at the helm of the 1.3 million-member Dallas diocese, a role that doubles as the church's principal voice in the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area.
* * *
For further background on Tobin, below is the context run here on last month's announcement of his elevation to the Pope's "Senate"....
9 October 2016 –
Given what many will take as the day's big surprise – the elevation of Joe Tobin, 64, the Detroit-born Redemptorist who's led the 250,000-member Indy church since 2012 – well, for starters, the nickname he's long had among his confreres bears recalling: "Big Red."
To be sure, that's more a reference to both the former hockey enforcer
's onetime ginger hair and the worldwide religious family he would lead for 12 years... still, given the latest curveball in a ministry full of them, the moniker fits its newest turn no less.
After two terms as superior-general of the Redemptorists, in 2010 Benedict XVI named Tobin as archbishop-secretary
of the "Congregation for Religious," armed with a mandate to bring a smooth landing to the Holy See's visitation of the US' apostolic communities of sisters, which had become mired in untold levels of controversy and misunderstandings in domestic church-circles and media alike. That he entered the job by publicly cross-checking
the excesses of the Roman Curia – in words that, while controversial at the time, would prove to be prophetic – is something that shouldn't be forgotten today. (Below, the now cardinal-designate is seen leading a family singalong at the reception following his ordination.)
With the task essentially finished in two years – thanks in large part to the now cardinal-designate's fierce commitment to dialogue with the orders, and an equally formidable integration of their concerns into the process – Tobin's appointment to Indianapolis didn't just fulfill his wish to get home to the Midwest (above all to his indomitable mother, Marie-Terese,
who raised 13 children alone as a young widow), the move likewise brought someone who had been a veteran pastor among the first Hispanic waves in Detroit and Chicago to a diocese which was just beginning to experience a sizable Latino influx, making the newcomers a priority in the venerable, largely-rural church for the first time.
Barely six months after Tobin's arrival by the Brickyard, his southern fluency would come into the ultimate reason behind this historic red hat: with the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, while most US bishops were furiously brushing up on the new pontiff, the Indy prelate suddenly found himself as one of the closest Stateside friends of the new Bishop of Rome – indeed, one of precious few North Americans who had any firsthand experience with him, let alone at length.
That serendipity owed itself to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which Tobin, as head of the Redemptorists, attended as the delegate of the Union of Superiors General (the umbrella-group of the global leaders of mens' orders).
As the Synod's circuli minores
– the small discussion-groups – were split up by language, bishops had already taken all the English-speaking slots by seniority, so Tobin found a seat in a Spanish group... and spent the next month sitting alongside the cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Accordingly, eight years later, within an hour of the Argentine's election to Peter's Chair – as most US hierarchs furiously sought to cram up on the Conclave's choice – the Indianapolis media was treated to the most fully steeped of briefings
while sitting around their archbishop's desk.
Sure enough, nobody in the States came anywhere close to "nailing" the man and the story so precisely in the moment – and, again, today's news merely evinces the result.
Within a year, Francis already showed that he hadn't forgotten
his old friend, naming Tobin a member of the Curial Congregation he had helped oversee (a rare nod for a far-flung bishop), as well as quietly sending him on a few delicate missions.
Over those same months in 2014, meanwhile, as someone the Pope knew – and who, in many ways, bore his scent – the Redemptorist's name was duly floated at high levels for Chicago, only to be deemed too much a "wild card" by some key players, given his lack of experience in the national rungs of leadership.
Amid that backdrop, this most "personal" seat in the College a Pope has given an American since 1958 (when John XXIII elevated Bishop Aloysius Muench of Fargo, who Papa Roncalli knew and admired as the postwar Nuncio to Germany) – and one given alongside the eventual Windy City pick
– shows anew, and for the first time in the US, that even as Francis can be freewheeling in consulting on major diocesan appointments, when it comes to the "Senate" that will elect his successor (and from which the next Pope will come), his choices are his own.
While no shortage of early focus on Tobin's elevation has honed in on Tobin's public clash
with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – now the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee – over the archdiocese's decision last year to take in Syrian refugees
, a far quieter, less politically charged angle carries even more weight. (On a context note, however, Pence's move to ban the migrants from the Hoosier State was rejected as discriminatory
by a Federal appeals court last week.)
Each November during the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, the local Catholic Worker House goes to the trouble to invite all of the 300-odd prelates for dinner and conversation one night during Plenary Week. And for years, all of one consistently turned up: Bishop John Michael Botean
, the Ohio-based eparch of North America's 8,000 Romanian Catholics,
who famously declared
on the eve of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq that "any direct participation and support of this war... is objectively grave evil [and] a matter of mortal sin."
Normally as low-profile as he was outspoken on the war, as Botean slipped out to keep his usual commitment at the 2012 meeting, he was stunned to find company looking to head to the Peace Dinner: Tobin, who was just joining the Stateside bench upon his appointment to Indianapolis, and – having long and openly witnessed
to four decades in recovery – was bound to find little taste for the oft-boozy scene of dinners and receptions that fill the hotel after the daily Floor sessions.
Long story short, the Catholic Worker night is a commitment he's kept ever since. And even as Francis' push toward the "peripheries" has raised the event's annual crowd to around a dozen bishops, as never before, now there'll be a cardinal in the room for it....
And in this world, that says everything.
* * *
Said to have learned the news only on hearing pre-dawn shouting that woke him up at the Indy church's seminary at St Meinrad – far from the see city... and reliable cell service – Cardinal-designate Tobin issued his initial reaction on his recently-launched Twitter feed