Cardinal Joseph Tobin was installed as New Jersey’s first Roman Catholic cardinal Friday, Jan. 6 at a solemn Mass in Newark’s Sacred Heart Cathedral, during which he declared that the Church “is neither an elite club nor static container of truth.”
Instead, Tobin said in his homily, the church “is a set of
interlocking and dynamic relationships among people and with the Triune
God.” It is the place, he continued, “where believers speak and listen
to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and
listens to the world.”
The address was very much in line with Pope Francis’s welcoming and inclusive vision of Catholicism.
This was not surprising given that Francis stunned church observers -
and Tobin himself - when in October he announced he was elevating Tobin
to the rank of cardinal while Tobin was head of the Archdiocese of
Indianapolis, which has just 230,000 Catholics and never had a cardinal.
Then in November Francis said he was moving Tobin to head the
Archdiocese of Newark, a much larger community of some 1.2 million
Catholics but also one that had never been headed by a cardinal. Such
honors were always reserved for archbishops in the neighboring cities of
New York and Philadelphia.
Tobin’s appointment was in part a solution to the problems that had
plagued the Newark archdiocese under now-retired Archbishop John Myers.
Myers had a stormy 15-year tenure in which he alienated many with a
hard-line approach to doctrine, questionable handling of clergy sex
abuse cases, and pricey renovations made to a retirement home.
Morale in the archdiocese was low and an archbishop who Francis had
sent in 2013 to take over from Myers had to be transferred to the
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to clean up scandals left by the
outgoing archbishop there.
But Tobin’s appointment was also viewed as another move by Francis to
shake up the U.S. hierarchy and place a churchman in his own mold in a
Tobin - who was effectively exiled to Indianapolis from a Vatican
post in 2012 after he criticized Rome’s investigation of the American
nuns under former Pope Benedict XVI - has embraced Francis’s pastoral
approach and has regularly defended Francis from his conservative
In his homily on
Friday, Tobin continued on that theme, saying the greatest challenge
for the church is not one of the “so-called ‘hot-button’ issues that
dominate the discourse, both inside and outside the church,” even though
he said those topics are “noisy and divisive” and worry him.
Rather, he said it is the widening “chasm between faith and life” -
between the faith that Catholics profess and how they live their lives.
To believe in Jesus “is not acceptance of a doctrine or a moral code,
but of a person who lives now and is the source of life - and not just
on Sunday morning!” he told an overflow crowd that included thousands of
worshippers and hundreds of nuns and priests from Newark, Indianapolis
and Tobin’s own Redemptorist order.
“The church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet
another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of
salt, light and leaven for the world’s transformation,” Tobin said.
“For this reason, our kindness must be known to all.”
He said that joy must be the hallmark of the church today as it was
for the earliest Christians who lived through much more difficult times.
“Rejoice,” Tobin concluded, “because we will grow in unity and
humility and, in the process, discover joy and peace in our life
together. Rejoice, because our kindness will be known to all: to the
searching young and the forgotten elderly, to the stranger and the
voiceless, to the powerful and the cynical.”
Dozens of bishops and several other cardinals also celebrated the
Mass, including retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was archbishop
of Newark before he went to Washington where he was given a red hat;
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington; New York’s
Dolan; Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich; Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley; and
Cardinal Roger Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie was among the many civic and political
leaders in attendance, and his presence pointed up one of the potential
political flashpoints Tobin’s appointment could spark.
While in Indianapolis, Tobin clashed with then-Gov. Mike Pence - now
the incoming vice president in the Trump administration - over Pence’s
demand that the church stop resettling Syrian refugees.
Tobin refused to back down,
saying Pence’s policy was “immoral, capricious and probably illegal,”
and he continued to criticize Donald Trump’s proposals to bar refugees
and immigrants based on their religion or ethnicity.
Christie, a Catholic and vocal Trump ally, has also said New Jersey
should not admit any refugees from the Syrian civil war, not even
“orphans under age 5.”
Meanwhile Phil Murphy, the leading Democratic candidate to replace
Christie this November, issued a statement welcoming Tobin and
highlighting the refugee issue.
“His leadership in Indianapolis, framed by his commitment to
welcoming Syrian refugees in the face of political pressure, shows a
humanitarian touch much needed in the public debate,” Murphy, also a
“His stated desire to build bridges, especially in a diocese with an
increasing immigrant population, and his call to resist against any
efforts for mass deportations is especially welcome.”