By David Cruz
Cardinal designate Joseph Tobin is as different from the man he will succeed as you could imagine — younger by a decade, with a quicker smile, a lighter, more humble touch and a closeness (philosophically, anyway) with Pope Francis that has eluded outgoing Archbishop John Myers.
“What an honor the Holy Father has given to the priests, religious and lay people of this archdiocese and also to the state of New Jersey,” said Myers today.
Tobin comes to Newark from Indianapolis, where he served as Archbishop. His appointment is seen by many observers of the church as a further signal from the pope that a change is in the air.
“I think in maybe trying to figure out for myself why this is happening because of the experience of leading a worldwide congregation and really working in cultures other than my own I’ve learned respect for other cultures and I’ve learned to welcome the witness of other peoples,” said Tobin. “I mean, I really enjoy this experience of a multicultural community in church.”
But criticism of the church’s handling of sex abuse cases has lingered, and Myers seeming recalcitrance in the face of the charges has hurt morale and created a distance between the church and its flock. Today, Tobin asked for patience — as he’s been on the ground for only 18 hours.
“I do know from this country and other places in the world what a scourge clerical sexual abuse has been,” he explained. “It’s not only a physical violation but it is an unspeakable violation of trust. That people who believed, in a dangerous world, they couldn’t trust anybody but they could trust us with their kids. When we violate that, it is unspeakable.”
Outside today’s announcement Bob Hoatson, co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, a harsh critic of Myers tenure and an advocate for clerical sex abuse victims, said he welcomed the change in leadership.
“The message from the pope is that we want bishops who are merciful, who are just, who are pastoral and Archbishop Myers has been a bureaucrat, simply put,” he said. “What is important to Archbishop Myers is his image and the assets of the Archdiocese and everything else doesn’t matter. This new man hopefully will have the opposite.”
Tobin speaks four languages and has had several overseas assignments. He was at the center of controversy last year when he defied Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s ban on accepting Syrian refugees, which prompted a question about how he might advise Catholics on this day before Election Day.
“You should take a good look at what people are talking about, especially the candidates. Are they calling us together, or are they separating us?” he asked. “I’m not going to tell people who to vote for tomorrow, but I’m going to say that these are things you should keep in mind.”
The oldest of 13 children, Tobin says he’s learned that he doesn’t need much and hopes to challenge his fellow clergy to recognize that maybe they don’t need everything they think they need in order to be free and human. A subtle rebuke of Myers’ fondness for luxury, perhaps, but certainly in step with the gospel of austerity that, today, is in favor at the Vatican.