Friday, March 5, 2021
No one should be surprised by the news that Pope Francis named Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, to be a member of the Congregation for Bishops. There are three reasons why the appointment makes perfect sense.
First, from 1991 until 2009, he worked in the curia of the Redemptorists in Rome, initially as general consultor and then for two terms as superior general. In that post, he would have become acquainted with the situation of the church throughout the world in ways few American bishops have. This knowledge of the global church is a desirable trait in all dicasterial appointments in Rome, but it is especially important in the Congregation for Bishops, which is charged with selecting the next generation of church leaders in most of the globe. For example, the largest national hierarchy in the world is that of Brazil, and the Redemptorists have a large presence in that country.
Second, the Redemptorists are a missionary order and Francis is the fourth pope in a row to be urging the Catholic Church to conceive of itself in missionary terms. The structures and attitudes of the Catholic Reformation Church served the faith very well for centuries but are now outmoded and ill-suited for the times. The church is vibrant in mission territory in Africa, Asia and Latin America even while it is declining in Western European countries that were dominant for the past two millennia. Tobin brings the charisms of the Redemptorists to the table when bishops are being selected.
Third, Tobin is not only the kind of leader Francis wants — someone close to the people, not a culture warrior, and with a heart for the poor and the marginalized — he is also genuinely well liked by his brother bishops. This past November, Tobin was elected by his fellow bishops to serve on the board of directors at Catholic Relief Services.