By Elise Harris
In the first days of U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said he has seen encouragement on pro-life matters, but cause for concern when it comes to refugees.
“I think the fact that the vice president and other White House officials addressed the March for Life last week was very encouraging, and I think it’s a good boost,” the cardinal told CNA in a sit-down interview Jan. 31.
Noting that the massive pro-life march is often ignored by the media, he said “this was I think a great gift to the people, the attention that the administration gave.”
However, he also voiced concern over U.S. president Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees, and how it will affect those suffering in various parts of the world. He said that in opposing the policy, the U.S. bishops have the support of Pope Francis.
Currently in Rome to take possession of his titular church Santa Maria delle Grazie, which he did Sunday, Tobin said that so far his schedule has been packed with curial meetings, and a visit to the new mega-dicastery for Integral Human Development was one of them.
While stopping by an office in the same building to talk about “a completely different issue,” Tobin said he got a visit from the secretary of the congregation, Fr. Michael Czerny, who popped in and conveyed the Pope’s confidence that the U.S. bishops are giving the issue “a Gospel response.”
Tobin, who currently serves as the Archbishop of Newark, was named a Cardinal by Pope Francis in his latest consistory, and got his red hat in Rome Nov. 19.
In the interview, the cardinal offered an update on Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz, who was assaulted while saying Mass in Newark over the weekend.
He also spoke about his transition from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to the Archdiocese of Newark, the strengths and challenges of consecrated life, and the 2018 Synod of Bishops, which will discuss youth and vocational discernment.
Please read below for CNA’s full interview with Cardinal Tobin:
Q: You have just changed dioceses. How has your transition to the Archdiocese of Newark been, and do you have any updates on how your Auxiliary Bishop, Manuel Cruz is doing after the assault this weekend?
The transition to Newark has been lovely. I’ve received a wonderful welcome from the clergy and from the people. Trying to orientate myself to the new reality is a bit like drinking form a firehose, as they say, so it’s a challenge each day to get to know this new church and its incredible vitality. While I’ve been here we’ve had a very disturbing incident in the cathedral of Newark Saturday. One of our auxiliary bishops and the rector of the cathedral, Manuel Cruz, was just beginning a memorial Mass for Roberto Clemente, the famous Puerto Rican baseball player and philanthropist, and a person got up out of the pew and went into the sanctuary and began to beat him. I talked to Bishop Cruz the following day and he said he had actually extended his hand to greet the man when he was hit full in the face and it damaged him. He’s received about 25 stitches in his face and at first they thought that his jaw had been broken, but he will probably need some reconstructive surgery, so it was a very traumatic experience for him and really for the cathedral community and for the archdiocese.
Q: We’ll definitely keep him in our prayers. Another thing that’s made headlines and has been on everyone’s mind is Donald Trump and everything that he’s been doing in the days since his inauguration. One of the biggest concerns has been on his immigration policy. What is your reaction to the plan that he is currently trying to implement?
Well, I made my reaction known in a statement that the Archdiocese posted. My concern for the provisions of this, first the ban on refugees from some of the most suffering parts of the world, and secondly, his total ban on any people who are coming from seven different countries, but also to people who belong to the Islamic faith. Those were all sources of concern not simply for me but also for my brother bishops.
Q: I know you’ve had differences with Vice President Michael Pence on this in the past, and in the end the local government took the same position as the Church. Do you expect the bishops will have any sway on this issue now, particularly the specific attention Trump has shown to Catholics?
I would just add that in that former disagreement with the-then governor of Indiana, it wasn’t simply the government but it was also the courts later on, because the State tried to justify its ban in federal court and in two different courts it was discarded as not being constitutional. So I think the whole constitutionality of this ban is going to be questioned not simply by Catholic bishops, but by other interested groups and perhaps the courts will have a say in it. I think what bishops need to do and what we do is to tell the truth, and to tell the truth in light of the Gospel.
Q: Have you received any sort of advice from the Vatican on how to engage the Trump administration on this issue?
Actually yesterday I was meeting with, on a completely different issue, but I was in the same building as the Migration (section), and the (secretary) of the council, Fr. Michael Czerny, came to see me, and he said the Holy Father doesn’t feel the need to intervene because he believes the bishops, not just one bishop, but the bishops of the United States are making an adequate response, a Gospel response.
Q: For Catholics in particular the Trump administration can be kind of puzzling. He’s been very strong on prolife issues but radically opposite when it comes to immigration. What advice would you give to Catholics who perhaps feel caught in the middle?
All of us have the challenge of seeing this respect for life as being, in the famous words of Cardinal Bernardin, Chicago’s “seamless garment,” which is just that the garment of Christ wasn’t torn apart at the foot of the cross and neither is our moral reflection on life. Now, it is encouraging if the present administration – I think the fact the vice president and other White House officials addressed the March for Life last week was very encouraging and I think it’s a good boost. I’ve walked in that march a number of times and have been amazed at the sort of dedication of people who come out in the middle of January, usually in freezing weather, to witness and often times it’s just ignored by the media. So this was I think a great gift to the people, the attention that the administration gave. I hope that they’ll make good on that intention. However I think that there’s probably part of public policy that was announced last week that needs to be challenged and needs a respectful debate, and I think that that’s what the bishops of the country intend to do.
Q: Shifting to another announcement that was made this week, the Vatican confirmed your post in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Pope met with the members this weekend. Do you have a reaction to his speech?
The theme of the meeting of the congregation – those are the cardinals and bishops that advise the department in the Vatican on policies affecting consecrated life across the world. The theme of it had to do with fidelity and perseverance, so I think that he, obviously as a religious, is interested in the witness that consecrated people give. So he talked about what are elements that can enhance fidelity among religious, things like spiritual direction, regular use of the sacraments, the importance of having a spiritual advisor. I think that he helped us see that the work we were doing was pretty crucial.
Q: You’ve worked with the congregation before and you have a lot of experience working with different religious communities. Given your experience, what would you say are some of the biggest areas of opportunity of consecrated life today, but also the great strengths it has?
Consecrated life, like any committed life, faces particular challenges today, particularly in the West, where a famous sociologist here in Italy used to talk about the “liquid society,” a society that is so fluid in its identity that you can say you’re something one day, and then change it the next, even the most profound characteristics of what it means to be human. I think as vowed people, people who have given ourselves to the Lord, to maintain that commitment within such fluidity is going to be a challenge. I think also that this sort of freedom that religious life should model isn’t always evident if we’re not truly free – free from striving for power, wealth or unlimited satisfaction. In a consumerist society, that’s going to be a challenge, to say no, living simply and living gratefully is the real secret to a happy life. So I think religious can model that for the rest of the Church. But if we’re not faithful to that, then we become like the salt that’s lost its flavor, and we don’t want to do that.
Q: One final question. The topic of faith and vocational discernment is also the topic of the next Synod of Bishops. Will your congregation be contributing any specific materials? To what extent will you be involved in the planning?
I think that all the Roman dicasteries are asked to contribute to the synod, to the preliminary and preparatory documents, so I imagine this congregation, but also the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States. I suppose I’ll be involved a little bit because I’m the Chair on the Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. So I know an important part of the preparatory process for a synod, is a sort of consultation and then trying to refine those consultations into a workable document to guide the synod. So yeah, I think that we’ll be involved.
Q: What are some of the big themes you think should be part of the discussion?
I think there are a number of things. How the Church is present among young people today, I think some sensitivity of what young people are looking for in themselves, what will be obstacles to young people embracing a vocation to which God is calling her or him, what is the particular witness that young people can give in the Church and the world and how does the Church need to support young people.
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