My Friend, the new Cardinal: Gerry Moloney writes about Archbishop Joe Tobin, recently nominated for the Red Hat.
Yesterday a man I know was appointed to the most exclusive clerical club in the world. He was made a cardinal of the Catholic Church by Pope Francis. It was a surprise appointment. No one expected his name to be on the list, least of all the man himself.
I have known Joe Tobin, Archbishop of Indianapolis, for more than 25 years. He was a member the Redemptorist general government in Rome when I first met him. One of his responsibilities was for youth ministry, with which I also was involved.
I remember a large gathering in Durham in 1994 – a Redemptorist mini world youth day event – when he gave up his comfortable bed to sleep on the ground in a marquee full of young southern Europeans who were frightened of the frogs that had sought sanctuary there after a day of constant rain. I remember the many football/soccer games he refereed even after he was elected head of the Redemptorists. Though some of his on field decisions were questionable to say the least, it was hard even for the most hot headed player to mouth off at the man who was the head Redemptorist. I remember how he preferred jeans and sweats to the formal clerical attire of his office. I remember his wonderful storytelling ability, his extraordinary capacity to remember names, and how grounded in the ordinary he always appeared even as he attained high office.
Once finished his two-term spell as Redemptorist Superior General, Joe went on a study break to England. Then came his surprise appointment to the Vatican as secretary for religious. It was a challenging post at a challenging time. The newly ordained archbishop found himself thrust into the middle of the doctrinal investigation of US women religious by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an investigation he strongly opposed. He lost that battle, being considered too sympathetic to the sisters, and was hustled far outside Vatican walls to be installed as Archbishop of Indianapolis in 2012.
Indianapolis is a vibrant, sports-mad city that is only about 10 percent Catholic, but the new archbishop quickly made his mark as an approachable, compassionate, eloquent pastor, who had, what Francis calls, the “smell of the sheep.”
He wasn’t typical of the US Catholic hierarchy which was full of John Paul II and Benedict XVI appointees, who tended to be politically and ecclesiastically right of centre culture warriors, constantly at loggerheads with the modern world rather than engaging with it. Joe Tobin is not a culture warrior, and nor does he favour lace over grace. He is one of the few bishops who goes to the Catholic Worker dinner held during the annual US Conference of Bishops meetings in November, rather than the formal grand banquet held in a plush hotel.
Last year he clashed with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now Donald Trump’s running mate, over the politically sensitive issue of resettling Syrian refugees. Pence had announced that Syrian refugees would not be welcome in his state, citing concerns about terrorism.
The Catholic Charities agency in Indianapolis had been working to resettle a Syrian family at the time of the announcement, and Pence asked that they put those plans on hold. After a meeting between the two men, Archbishop Tobin announced that the diocese would continue with its plans to resettle the family, and did so.
Archbishop Tobin is also on record as supporting the idea of women serving as deacons in the Catholic Church. Needless to say, this idea, broached by Francis himself, is controversial, so it’s wonderful to have another strong voice for greater equality for women from within the college of cardinals.
Two years ago, when I was planning my sabbatical after 23 years in Redemptorist Communications, I asked Joe if he could accommodate me in his diocese for a couple of months, where I could lend a hand in a parish while at the same time having plenty of opportunity to read, write and unwind. He could not have been more helpful. I met and ate with him several times during my six weeks in Indianapolis, a time cut short due to my developing back pain. I was grateful for his kindness and generosity. As a cardinal and still only in his mid 60s, Joe is a man I will happily trust with helping to choose the next pope, though I hope that won’t be anytime soon.
The fact that Francis has chosen as cardinals pastoral men, moderate progressives, who know the smell of the sheep, is good news indeed. He wants men (wouldn’t it be great if there were women among them before long!) who share his vision for the church and the world. In choosing Joe Tobin, alongside others like Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, Francis has chosen well.
good to hear a man with the smell of the sheep has reached the Cardinal ranks, and as you opinion one day soon women will also join with him,
Nicely worded article Gerry.There is hope that things are being viewed in a different light.More of this is needed especially here-pity the word does not get through to Nuncio in Dublin. We look forward with bated breath to appointment of bishops in vacant sees here- will it be a case of no locals need apply? To get back to a hobby horse of mine- why are some of the smaller dioceses not amalgamated. Surely in this age of modern communications and transport it does not make sense to have so many bishops with dwindling number of priests.I have in mid places like Achonry, Clonfert, Killala and others. Did not the Papal visitation commission sent here not recommend as much.
This is a nice piece about Gerry’s friend, Joe Tobin, including mention of how he was “friend to the sisters” during their recent time of persecution. There was a photo attached to this article which did not paste.
Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis speaks at an Oct. 10 news conference at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis about being named a cardinal by Pope Francis the day before. (CNS photo / Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)
Sisters say new cardinal Tobin has ‘great respect for religious life’
by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins
Oct. 12, 2016
• Tobin speaks of a church that is sacrament of mercy to the world
When Pope Francis named Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin as one of three U.S. bishops to be elevated to cardinal next month, Catholic sisters around the country rejoiced — especially the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan.
As Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland put it, calling Global Sisters Report from Monroe, “There’s a lot of happiness in this big house of IHMs.”
In many ways Tobin is the spiritual son of the sisters in Monroe. He had aunts and cousins who were members of the congregation, and, as a child, he was taught by the sisters at their Holy Redeemer elementary school in his hometown of Detroit. After Tobin was ordained as a Redemptorist priest in 1978 (the Monroe congregation was co-founded by a Redemptorist priest) he returned to Holy Redeemer parish where he served on the pastoral staff for two decades, working alongside the sisters.
Sr. Elizabeth Fleckenstein, whose time as principal of Holy Redeemer elementary school overlapped with Tobin’s time as associate pastor — and later pastor — of Holy Redeemer parish, remembers Tobin as a champion of inclusiveness. In particular, she notes that when Holy Redeemer saw an influx of Hispanic parishioners, it was Tobin who brought the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking communities together.
“When they first came, we had two churches: the Hispanic [congregation] had their Masses in the basement and everybody else was in the upper church,” she said. “Joe put an end to that. The [Hispanic] families were then absorbed in a very inclusive way so that we were no longer two separate communities celebrating liturgy but were celebrating together.”
For Fleckenstein, Tobin embodies the Alphonsian spirituality shared by the Redemptorists and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And that’s part of why she is so proud of his elevation to cardinal.
“In all my years of knowing Joe as a priest, as a bishop — as a friend too — I think he has always exemplified the qualities of a true shepherd,” she said. “The kind of shepherd the church needs so badly right now, and the kind of shepherd that Pope Francis models and exhorts his priests and bishops to be. So I’m very proud, and I certainly was not a bit surprised.”
Many people believe Tobin additionally proved what kind of shepherd he is by his apparent concern for U.S. sisters after the Vatican launched a controversial investigation of their congregations in 2008.
Tobin was appointed to the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life from which the investigation stemmed in 2010. “I’ve preached at women’s retreats and listened a lot to them over the years,” he said in an interview at the time. “Maybe I can offer a different picture of American women religious than the one that has been presented in Rome. My own impression is extremely positive.”
Although Tobin was only at the Vatican for two years, some observers point out that his time there coincided with a seeming shift in the Vatican’s rhetoric toward the sisters — Tobin himself saying the process before his tenure “didn’t really” favor dialogue. Whether or not Tobin was responsible for the shift in tone, his brief time at the Vatican garnered him the moniker of “friend to the sisters.”
Fleckenstein, for one, believes Tobin earned the name.
“I think he is very much a friend to the sisters,” she said, “which he showed in Rome when he went to bat during the apostolic visitation.”
And indeed, many U.S. sisters outside of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe have a positive impression of Tobin, in large part because of his time at the Vatican during the apostolic visitation.
In an email to GSR, Leadership Conference of Women Religious president Mary Pellegrino, a Sister of St. Joseph, said that in his position at the Vatican, Tobin “was a significant support to the communities of women religious in the United States.”
Ellen Maroney, president of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scranton, Pennsylvania also told GSR that Tobin’s actions at the Vatican garnered him much goodwill with sisters nationwide.
“His efforts on behalf of the sisters — to meet with them, to dialogue with them — he was always forthright in that. And I think he won our respect,” she said, calling Tobin “Christ-like” and “complete.”
Sharon Holland is less enthusiastic about crowning Tobin “friend to the sisters,” noting that the term was used frequently in a derogatory sense during the Vatican’s investigation, with some even saying he was forced out of the Vatican for being too friendly to the sisters. She retired from the office of CICISAL the year before Tobin was appointed.
Nonetheless, Holland agrees that Tobin has had a positive relationship with U.S. sisters. Especially “his” sisters in Monroe.
“I think he understands religious life, and he has a great respect for religious life,” Holland, who first met Tobin when he would come to Monroe to visit those of his relatives who were sisters in Monroe. “So in that sense, he could be called a friend of religious. He was a friend to us. I think he was a friend to anybody who he came to meet and who knew him.”
Holland also agrees with Fleckenstein that Tobin is the kind of pastor Francis has been extolling in the first two years of his pontificate.
“I think — I mean I haven’t discussed it with him — but I think he has very much the same approach to church as Pope Francis,” she said. “I think Archbishop Tobin will be one more voice in moving toward a more positive, merciful and, for lack of a better word, loving church that’s going out to the peripheries, to the poor, to people in need.”
[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is Global Sisters Report staff writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]
Related – Tobin speaks of a church that is sacrament of mercy to the world
I happened to be in St. Peters Square on Sunday morning when Francis announced his list of new cardinals. We were in Rome not for the mass but for a friend’s wedding when another friend, who works in the Vatican, told us that Papa Francesco would be celebrating an open air Mass on Sunday morning at 10.30am. So, off I went, minus the all-important ticket, and tried to sweet talk my way past an initially unsympathetic Swiss Guard who finally relented and let me in after I asked him would we be able to receive Holy Communion and where. It was a lovely experience, which I had never experienced before, and which I will never forget, on a lovely warm, sunny Rome morning. At the end of Mass Francis was handed a couple of pages which he began to read from. I don’t speak Italian so I really did not know what he was saying to begin with. The I heard the words Blasé Cupich, and as many of us had been wondering when Francis would give him his red hat, I realised then what I was listening to.
He also mentioned Josef De Kesel and this was now very obviously a list and then the moment of greatest joy when he said the words “Joseph Tobin”. I don’t know Joe Tobin but we do have mutual friends so I know quite a bit about him. And,given that we all know how he tried to be decent with the American nuns during their time of scandalous trial and the got turfed out of Rome for his trouble, this was really a joyous moment which seemed to confirm for me yet again that we are definitely living in a new era in our Church.
While I was not close enough to see what was happening in the sanctuary outside St. Peter’s door after Mass I could see on the big screen Francis greeting all the priests he had con-celebrated with.
He was so relaxed, almost playful as he greeted them all and you could see they were all overjoyed to be in his presence. There was certainly not a hint of the “hostility” Christoph Schonborn complained about last week during the annual Medjugorje service in Vienna.
And then as he was driven through the crowds in his Pope mobile — what excitement that was !– I got quite close to him. He looks very fresh and healthy. With Gods help and the help of our prayers he will get enough time for another few consistories to get the numbers right at the next Conclave for Francis II.
I never knew what Gerry has told us about Joe Tobin speaking in favour of women deacons. I did know, however, how Josef De Kesel has spoken in favour of having a mature debate about womans ordination — to the priesthood.! Apparently, De Kesel was top of Cardinal Danneels tierna when he retired. This was, of course, completely ignored by Rome who appointed Andre-Joseph Léonard instead — not the most brilliant of appointments, as it turned out.
I will never forget my Sunday morning in the sun at St. Peters Square.
Gerry. I concur totally with your interesting piece on Joe Tobin. We all have good memories of our one time Superior General. I pen these few lines to rejoice that, in spite of chronic excruciating back pain, you still continue to be excellent word smith you have always been. The pen is mightier than the sword. Keep up the good work.Stan