Cardinal Joseph Tobin installed as leader of Newark Archdiocese

This story was published on Jan. 6, 2017. It can be found here.

In a hopeful and historic new chapter for more than a million Roman Catholics in New Jersey, Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, a moderate churchman in the mold of Pope Francis, was officially installed Friday as leader of the Archdiocese of Newark.

Some 2,000 people crowded into Newark’s soaring Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, one of the largest cathedrals on the East Coast, to witness the transfer of authority to Tobin, 64, from Archbishop John J. Myers, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in June.

Six of Tobin’s fellow cardinals, including Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Newark, attended the Mass, along with bishops and archbishops from around the country. Hundreds of priests, nuns, members of religious orders and clergy of other faiths entered the cathedral to the strains of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin at the Cathedral Basilica  of the Sacred Heart in Newark. (Aristide Economopoulos/NJ Advance Media for

Gov. Chris Christie, former Gov. Jim McGreevey, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and other members of the state’s political corps also attended.

Tobin, the first cardinal to preside over the archdiocese in its 163-year-history, was greeted by sustained applause as he strode along the cathedral’s long center aisle to the altar. There he was met by Myers, who offered Tobin and the others assembled “a warm and heartfelt welcome on this great occasion.”

Myers’ attendance at the Mass had been in doubt after he dislocated one of his surgically repaired hips last month, but he was able to stand for a brief period on his own Friday.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, read aloud the pope’s order transferring Tobin to Newark from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where he had served since 2012.

Holding the pope’s order above his head, Tobin then walked up and down the aisles, displaying it for all to see.

He expressed both humility and humor during the Mass, noting at one point that when Pope Francis made him a cardinal in Rome in November, he whispered in Spanish to the pontiff, “What have you done?”

Tobin offered praise and thanks to what he described as his many families: the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Archdiocese of Newark and the relatives he grew up with.

“Thank you for teaching me how to love. Thank you for teaching me how to share,” he said, noting he grew up with eight sisters and one bathroom. “And thank you for teaching me how to pray.”

In his homily, the cardinal spoke of his fear over what he called a growing chasm between faith and everyday life.

That rift, he said, worries him more than any “hot-button issue” of the day. The trend, he said, “seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our life, subtly seducing us to go to Mass on Sunday, and for the rest of the week, do whatever we we think we need to do to get by.”

Tobin expressed a measure of anxiety about his move to Newark, saying it comes with great responsibility.

“It is a daunting proposition, not because of the size, rich history or wonderful diversity of this portion of the vineyard,” he said. “Rather, the appointment reminds me the stakes are incredibly high, for if we permit the chasm between faith and life to continue to expand, we risk losing Christ, reducing him simply to an interesting idea or a comforting, nostalgic memory.”

He closed with a call to those gathered to rejoice in their faith and to help those in need.

“Rejoice, because we will grow in our unity and humility, and, in the process, discover joy and peace in our life together,” he said.

The installation Mass brought to an end the 15-year tenure of Archbishop Myers, a controversial figure in Newark. Myers, seen by some as distant, had been criticized for how he oversaw priests accused of sexual abuse and for spending more than $500,000 to build a 3,000-foot addition on his 4,500-foot retirement home in Hunterdon County.

For Tobin, it has been a whirlwind few months.

After four years in Indianapolis, he received word in October he would be made a cardinal, among the highest honors in the Catholic church.

Just two weeks later, representatives of Pope Francis informed Tobin he would be moving to Newark, an ethnically and economically diverse diocese home to nearly 1.5 million Roman Catholics in Essex, Hudson, Union and Bergen counties.

The cardinal reflected on that period during the Mass, calling it “an interesting roller coaster of emotions, a time of anticipation and change for all of us.”

Joining Tobin in his welcome Friday were some of the most prominent figures in American Catholicism, including cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago, Timothy Dolan of New York, Sean O’Malley of Boston and Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

All of New Jersey’s bishops attended, as did the man once assumed to succeed Myers: Bernard Hebda, archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Hebda had been named co-adjutor bishop of Newark when Francis diverted him to help quell a raging sexual abuse crisis in the Minnesota diocese.

Tobin expressed thanks to those who attended, saying he appreciated the welcome for “the new kid on the block.”

Church analysts have said it is Tobin’s humble nature that endeared him to the pope, who has elevated religious leaders he sees as shepherds and has castigated those who portray themselves as “princes of the church” out of touch with the poor.

Through his appointments, Francis has shown he also favors moderate bishops who show tolerance to other viewpoints, even if church orthodoxy on such issues as gay marriage and women in the priesthood has not changed.

Tobin had advocated for a greater role for women in the church, and he has spoken out about the need to be more welcoming to gay parishioners.

The oldest of 13 children, Tobin was born in Detroit and served as a priest there and in Chicago after his ordination in 1978.

He is a member of the Redemptorist order, which is known for its devotion to the poor. He expounded on that philosophy in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America in November, saying Redemptorists “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people maybe the church isn’t able to care for.”

Tobin’s elevation to cardinal, along with his move to Newark, marks what one veteran analyst, the Rev. Thomas Reese, has called a “resurrection story” of sorts.

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head up the Vatican congregation overseeing religious orders in 2010, Tobin was immediately thrust into an investigation involving American nuns, who were under fire from conservative theologians for espousing views seen as too secular and out of line with established church teachings.

Tobin, raising hackles in the Vatican’s conservative circles, sided with the nuns. And with that, what was to have been a five-year stint as head of the congregation ended after two years. In Reese’s view, Benedict banished Tobin to Indianapolis.

The surprise pick of Pope Francis in 2013 brought a change of fortunes. Francis and Tobin have known one another for more than 11 years, and the pope has spoken fondly of him in the past.

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