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Joseph Cardinal Tobin: A Redemptorist for Catholic New Jersey—and America

Joseph Cardinal Tobin: A Redemptorist for Catholic New Jersey—and America
01/01/1970 No comments Christopher M. Bellitto, PhD

Last week Liguori author Dr. Christopher Bellitto was quoted in an article in the Bergen Record about Cardinal Joseph Tobin. Liguori Publications asked Dr. Bellitto to amplify his remarks.

It is an exciting time for Catholic New Jersey, which now has the first cardinal in its history: Redemptorist Father Joseph Tobin. Formerly archbishop of Indianapolis and before that worldwide Superior General of the Redemptorists (1997-2009), Cardinal Tobin took charge of the Archdiocese of Newark in January 2017. (Photo courtesy of Paul Haring, Catholic News Service.)

Tobin Dials Down the Rhetoric and Increases the Dialogue

What Cardinal Tobin brings to the American church scene—and what he has been doing since his arrival in Indianapolis—is dial down the rhetoric and increase the dialogue. Immediately we label him a “Pope Francis bishop,” a phrase we should retire (full disclosure: I’ve used it, too) along with “John Paul II priest” or “Benedict bishop.”

Cardinal Tobin would be the first to tell you that he is a priest and bishop first and foremost of Jesus Christ in full communion with his brother bishops and with the pope, whoever he is, as Peter’s successor. Indeed, if Cardinal Tobin is a “Francis bishop,” then he beat the current pope to the punch since he was appointed Archbishop of Indianapolis by Benedict XVI in late 2012—months before Pope Francis’ election in March 2013.

Tobin Urged a Softer Approach to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

It is fair to say that then-bishop Tobin found himself out of step in Rome because he urged a softer approach to the awkward investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States begun in 2012 and abruptly shut down three years later. American nuns—historically the very backbone of the American church, especially in education and health care—were stunned to find themselves accused of “a prevalence of certain radical themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” With class and dignity, they defended themselves against an investigation they criticized for a lack of due process and transparency. At the time, Tobin served in a high-level position in the Vatican’s office overseeing consecrated life, where he urged greater respect, dialogue, and fairness in the investigation.

Tobin Spoke Up for Immigrants and Refugees

Moved from Rome to Indianapolis, Archbishop Tobin spoke up for immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, and to protect refugees. He refused to comply with the order of Mike Pence, then Indiana’s governor and now Vice President, to prevent settlement of Syrian refugees. It is a stand that Cardinal Tobin is continuing to make against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the Trump administration. In fact, Cardinal Tobin criticized the president’s executive orders: “They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.”

Now, in Newark and with the cardinal’s red hat, Cardinal Tobin is poised to be an even more prominent voice within the American church, American politics, and even the world stage. Newark in particular is in need of a pastor’s touch, but so is a fractured country and divided church. Cardinal Tobin’s personal history indicates he wishes to confront policy without being confrontational. His first intention seems not to ask if someone is divorced or gay, but where they are in their relationship with God. Some bishops seem to start by imposing church laws, while Cardinal Tobin wants to witness to God’s mercy.

It will be interesting to see how the Holy Spirit blows through him next.

Christopher M. Bellitto, PhD
© 2017 Liguori Publications. All rights reserved.

Want to learn more about Joseph Cardinal Tobin’s order of Redemptorists? Read about his commitment to the the poor and the marginalized. Want to learn about church reform under Pope Francis? Watch Dr. Bellitto’s interview on Salt and Light Media.

Christopher M. Bellitto, Ph.D., is professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He is a frequent public speaker and media commentator on Church history and contemporary Catholicism. He is the author of the Liguori books, Church History 101 and The Living Church, books which bring the history of the Catholic Church to life. His latest book is Ageless Wisdom: Lifetime Lessons from the Bible.

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