New Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis talks with people before a consistory at which he was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis realizes that we live in an
unmerciful world and that the Church has not always been seen as a source of
This is the view of Cardinal Joseph
Tobin, the new American cardinal who will be leading the Archdiocese of Newark,
and who spoke with Catholic World Report
on November 21 in Rome.
In the interview, the 64-year-old
Redemptorist spoke about his nomination as a cardinal, the Pope’s other choices
for red hats just days before at the November 19 consistory, and what he
believes should be the Church’s priorities during the term of the new president
of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Cardinal Tobin also reflected on
why even new cardinals from America can be seen as coming “from the peripheries,”
and on the upcoming synod on young people and evangelization.
CWR: What was your strongest emotion this weekend?
Cardinal Joseph Tobin: I suppose wonderwondering what it all means. Wondering
why these decisions were made. And then, together with that, there’s a growing
acceptance. This is what is being asked of me. It is not a coincidence; this is
a particular path that God wishes for me to walk.
CWR: The College of Cardinals right now has greater representation
from Asia and Africa than it has had in the past. We see new cardinals from
very small countries and places where Catholicism is a tiny minority, for
instance, the Central African Republic and Bangladesh. What message do you
think the Holy Father is trying to convey with these decisions?
Cardinal Tobin: Well, I think you could also say that even the choice
of America reflects that, because while the Church in the United States is well
established, if you look at it globally, it’s only 6 percent of the Catholic
Church. ... The College of Cardinals is a parliament, [it] is a congress. If it’s going to engage with the Holy Father and
in his absencein the case of the death of the Holy Fatherwith discernment,
then, I think it’s very wise and very indicative that the experience of the
Church across the world is reflected in such a body.
CWR: The United States is undergoing a time of great
political change. What do you think are the priorities the Church wishes to see
from the new president, Donald Trump?
Cardinal Tobin: Well, I think that whatever enhances human beings and
their lives, whatever allows people to practice their faith, are all things
that the Church is interested in, as well as the wider society’s responsibility
for the weaker or less powerful members. Whatever promotes peace is certainly
what the Church is interested in. But what I think we are hoping for, as an
effective means for this, is some sort of meaningful and respectful dialogue
with the new administration.
CWR: Pope Francis has given much attention to mercy
during his pontificate. Why does he emphasize mercy, and why is he so sensitive
Cardinal Tobin: First, I think he says this even in the way he
presents mercy: “If you have not had any experience of mercy, it will be very difficult
for you to be merciful.” And I think he definitely has had experiences of God’s
mercy. One indication would be his episcopal motto, which are those three Latin
words that are a little hard to translate easily into English: Miserando
Atque Eligendo, which are the words of the Venerable Bede commenting
on the call of Matthew. Matthew, who was really somebody on the outside of the religious
life of his time. And what it translates to is something like this: “Having had
mercy”or having had pity“he called him…”
So I think that he has brought the
experience of receiving God’s mercy and being called. And now why is [this]
his emphasis? Well, I think one reason is that we live in such a clearly
unmerciful world, in many ways, from the very callous taking of new life, to
the terrible disregard for people who are fleeing violence and who find more
violence and sudden death on the Mediterranean Sea. And nobody really cares. …
The point is: [Pope Francis] realizes the unmerciful characteristics or
features of the world today.
The final reason why I would say he is
interested is that at times, in this unmerciful world, the Church is not always
seen as a sacrament of mercy. So what I think he is calling us to is to be even
more clearly reflective of Jesus, who is the merciful face of the Father.
And Francis didn’t invent thismercy was
always a theme for the Church.
CWR: In Amoris
Laetitia, we see mercy reflected in various ways, in ways that concretely
impact people’s lives: family, marriage, sexual morality, and so on. There are
still many uncertaintiesI am thinking specifically of the letter of the four
cardinals asking the Holy Father for clarification of certain points. So my
question for you is: in the Church’s doctrine, is there space for mercy, or
does the doctrine need to be changed to incorporate mercy?
Cardinal Tobin: Well, there needs to be space for mercy, and the place
often is in the application of the norm. For example, even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when
it talks about mortal sin, the teaching is always that there are three things
necessary; one is that there is something seriously evil. But that alone is not
enough. A person must have sufficient freedom and sufficient forethought or
reflection. Without those other two things, which cannot be measured
objectivelyit’s really a
pastoral judgmentyou [wouldn’t]
really have something that jeopardizes eternal salvation. So I think that
throughout the Church’s history there has been a struggle, particularly for
some Catholics, with the message that the Church was proclaiming and with the
actual state of human beings.
Maybe I am particularly sensitive to
that because I am a Redemptorist and our founder is St. Alphonsus Liguori, who
was the patron of moral theologians and of confessors. He found a similar
struggle in his time in the 18th century, when a very narrow sort of doctrine
of salvation was quite popular in the Church, something called Jansenism. And
Alphonsus realized early on in his ministry that if that were true and if that
were the only way, so many people whom he knew would have no chance. So what Alphonsus
did was to use all his intelligence and all his creativity to remain faithful
to the Church, and yet apply the norms in a manner that did not exclude people
from the gift of salvation.
CWR: Cardinals are entrusted with the task of advising
the pope. You also have worked years in the Roman Curia, which is undergoing a
process of reform. If the Pontiff were to solicit your advice about these
reforms, what would you recommend?
Cardinal Tobin: Well, I think he’s already got some pretty good
cardinals who have been working on this for a while. So I don’t expect he is
going to call me for my two cents. But I think that anything that could help
the Curia work together…at times, I think the Roman Curia risked a bit being
like when one plays the piano and the right hand doesn’t know what the left
hand is doing. So I think that anything that can help the Curiathe different
elements or departments, if you willcommunicate with each other and work
better together, will help the Church.
CWR: And the Jubilee of Mercyhow did you
live it out this year in your archdiocese [of Indianapolis]?
Cardinal Tobin: I think it was really a wonderful experience for all
of us. We had two Holy Doors, one at the cathedral and then one about 180 miles
away, because we cover 39 counties. Both were very popular with people. I was
very grateful for my priests, who increased occasions of the sacrament of
reconciliation and who also came to some study days we had, where we, as a
presbyterate, looked at what it means to preach mercy today. We prepared some
homilies together, which was done with the help of a professor of theology.
One of the groups that I saw accept it
with the greatest joy was people in the correctional facilities, because I
think more than most of us, they know they have no bragging rights with God. So
the possibility and reality of mercy is such good news to them, because it
means they have a chance.
CWR: What are your hopes and expectations for your
new archdiocese, Newark, New Jersey?
Cardinal Tobin: First, my hope is that I can learn what the reality of
Newark is. Already I can see in very significant ways, it is quite different
from that which I knew in Indiana. So I hope I can listen, and can help the
people discover where God is calling us as a diocese today.
CWR: The next meeting of the Synod of Bishops is going to
be on the theme of young people. We realize that with young people, there is
much vitality and fervor (as seen at World Youth Day), but at the same time, we
cannot deny the great trend of young people growing distant from their faith
and the Church. What do you think about this? Do you think there are certain
priorities that will be or need to be addressed, during the synod or in
Cardinal Tobin: We need to have the courage to look with clear eyes at
the challenges young people face today. In a certain sense, they are different
from country to country. For example, here in Italy, stable employment is such
a fragile thing, that due to it, many young people live with tremendous
insecurity. While in the States, I think it is a little easier for young people
to find work, and, if they want to, a career or the freedom to switch
careers if they wish. But they do face other challenges there. A lot of it has
to do with the messages they get about what is required of them to be good or
be lovable or whatevernot everything is worth risking your life over or
betting your life on. And I suspect in the United States and elsewhere, young
people are asked to bet their lives on proposals that are not worth it.
CWR: Any final thoughts?
Cardinal Tobin: Well, for your readers, if you could ask them to pray
for me. I like to present myself with the words of the Book of Genesis: “I am
Joseph, your brother.” A brother, as a disciple of Jesus, and a brother, as a
missionary in the world.