Cardinal Tobin calls on Catholics to move away from 'hot button' issues

New Man in Newark. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin smiles as he greets a clergyman before his Jan. 6 installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Joseph Tobin used his installation Mass as archbishop of Newark on Jan. 6 as an opportunity to call on Catholics to move away from rancor over “hot button” issues and toward contemplating how to live out their faith in a more holistic way.

Standing before a massive crowd inside Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which included scores of clergy and local officials, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Cardinal Tobin said he was recently asked which issue worried him most about the future of the church.

RELATED: An Interview with Cardinal Tobin from Rome

His answer? What he dubbed “the chasm between faith and life”—and not the culture war issues that “dominate the discourse, both inside and outside the church,” he said.

“As noisy and divisive as those questions might be,” he continued, “they don’t worry me as a growing trend that 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 think we need to do to get by.”

He said that Christians must be marked by their willingness to show “kindness to all: to the searching young and the forgotten elderly, to the stranger and the voiceless, to the powerful and the cynical.”

Cardinal Tobin’s appointment to Newark came as something of a surprise, given that Pope Francis announced in October that the then-archbishop of Indianapolis would be made a cardinal in November. Just weeks after that announcement, the Vatican announced that he would be transferred to Newark to lead the archdiocese’s 1.5 million Catholics.

Outgoing Archbishop John J. Myers, who welcomed Cardinal Tobin to the cathedral at the start of Friday’s Mass, has faced criticism for his handling of instances of clergy sexual abuse and accusations of lavish spending on a retirement home.

Archbishop Myers is seen as a church traditionalist. He released a memo in 2015, for example, reiterating the church’s ban on divorced and remarried Catholics being able to receive Communion, just as other bishops from around the world were discussing the issue in Rome at the behest of the pope.

Cardinal Tobin, by contrast, is a member of a religious order and is viewed as someone open to dialogue and discernment.

“I think Redemptorists always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for,” hetold America in October. “Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

He is also willing to take on difficult political questions, as evidenced by his 2015 refusal to comply with then-Gov. Mike Pence’s request not to resettle a family of Syrian refugees in Indiana, which brought him national attention.

In a speech at the University of Notre Dame last October, he said Catholics must “urge public officials to avoid reactions that politicize events abroad, or in this country, and to avoid misplaced blame that creates an atmosphere of fear.”

RELATED: Cardinal Tobin Makes Case for Welcoming Syrian Refugees

Ordained a priest in Redemptorist order in 1978, Cardinal Tobin, who speaks five languages, worked in parishes in Detroit and Chicago. By 1997 he was head of his religious order, based in Rome, and in 2010 Pope Benedict XVI promoted him to archbishop, assigning him the task of managing the Vatican office that oversees religious life.

Around this time the Vatican had launched two investigations of Catholic sisters in the United States, apparently the result of the dissatisfaction among some church officials at what they saw as a drift away from traditional church teaching on contentious social issues among U.S. women religious.

For his part, then-Archbishop Tobin emerged as an advocate for the sisters, ruffling the feathers of some church leaders. After serving just two years of a five-year term, he was appointed to serve as archbishop of Indianapolis, traditionally not a premier post in the American church.

Then, with Pope Francis, he was named a cardinal and sent to Newark, a meteoric rise after falling out of favor during a previous pontificate.

And he echoed the words of the pope during his homily, laying out his vision for the church.

Speaking to an audience that included six other cardinals and more than 60 other bishops, he said the church is “neither an elite club nor static container of truth,” calling it instead a “place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world.”

Using language borrowed from the pope, he said “the church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world's transformation.”

“For this reason, our kindness must be known to all,” he said.

Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.

Vincent Gaglione
4 months 2 weeks ago
I just edited this comment for this story based on the comment that I just wrote on the story about the cardinals who questioned Amoris Laetitia: In a conversation last night with a Trump supporter friend, a regular Mass goer, the product of 16 years of Catholic education, his position on "illegal" aliens in the USA is that they are not entitled to health care, housing, and education. When I said that was neither a humanitarian nor moral position to take, he used an expletive to describe that he was tired paying for others who don't belong. It is suggestive of Tobin's remarks about the chasm of faith and life. Pope Francis speaks to addressing the spiritual needs of those on the "peripheries." (As an aside, I personally believe that we are all on the peripheries) My point being, many would say that the Church needs to speak only to those Catholics who belong to the church in an orthodox sense. They are entitled to the services and benefits of the church because that is their right under church law. As for everyone else, those on the "peripheries" of the church, whether nominally Catholic or not, the church has nothing to offer of Christ except the prescriptions of the faith that they either accept or go to hell. Is that what Christ intended? Pope Francis and Bishop Tobin suggest otherwise for those on the "peripheries." They probably would also insist that Christ insists the same.
Lisa Weber
4 months 2 weeks ago
The views of Cardinal Tobin are refreshing! It sounds like he has left behind the tiresome tricycle many Catholics ride - divorce, abortion and gay marriage. Maybe we will get to talk about how we live out our faith in the world.
Henry George
4 months 2 weeks ago
Lisa, Cardinal Tobin seems to have a very large heart. But no matter what anyone says - abortion is murder. Jesus spoke out against Divorce. And Gay Marriage is an impossibility for any Christian. Now that may see to be a tiresome tricycle to you but not to those murdered in the womb, those abandoned in a marriage and those misled about why God gave humanity the sacrament of Marriage.
Jim Lein
4 months 2 weeks ago
Abortion is abortion. Murder is murder. And pro-life is more than anti-abortion. The most effective way to reduce the number of abortions--in theory the way to eliminate abortions all together--is to reduce or eliminate the number of unwanted pregnancies. And who is involved in all unwanted pregnancies? Yes, us guys. Without our irresponsible, uncaring, unsupportive, unloving, unchristian behavior, there would be no unwanted pregnancies, no, or very few, abortions. Until we clean up our act, we fellas should not condemn women who resort to abortion because we left them in a situation we'll never understand. We don't know what we are talking about. We are a major part of the problem.
Tim O'Leary
4 months 2 weeks ago
Jim - I agree that some men fit your description (though, certainly not all of us - the we only goes so far), primarily those men who live or support a libertine sexual lifestyle. These very men are, for their own perceived gain, also generally proponents of contraception and abortion. And much of the pro-life movement is led by women (Susan B Anthony, and the SBA List, Life Site, NRTL etc.). But, pro-life men should support the pro-life women both in the political fight, and by living a consistent Catholic lifestyle.
Tim O'Leary
4 months 2 weeks ago
Sounds like a great guy, with a great personal story and with his heart in the right place. The NYT ran a similarly complementary article on his appointment as well. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/nyregion/cardinal-joseph-w-tobin-archdiocese-newark.html?_r=0 He is solidly pro-life and knows the evil of abortion, just as much as Pope Francis does. Here is a statement from him less than a year ago, in response to Governor Pence’s signing of HEA 1337, which protects unborn children by banning abortions based on potential disabilities, gender and race: “This new law reflects the love that God has for everyone by affirming that every human life is sacred,” said Archbishop Tobin. “This is a decisive step in promoting life, not death, for unborn human life. No baby should lose its life because of a potential disability or its gender or race. Every human life matters." http://www.archindy.org/archbishop/abortion-2016.html Both NY area Cardinals - Tobin and Dolan - were highly and directly critical of Trump in the primaries but will still likely have significant influence in the new administration, and may be able to temper the response to illegal immigrants. The NYT reports Vice-President Pence said in an email “Cardinal Tobin is a personal friend, and I deeply respect his commitment to his faith and his ministry.” And Cardinal Dolan appeared to manage both Trump and Clinton very well at the Al Smith dinner.
Tom Fields
4 months 2 weeks ago
Hello, The Cardinal does not like "divisive issues"---like abortion, same-sex marriage, choose your shower/bath room.Sorry.Tell parents how to "ignore" these issues .The Church can certainly help divorced Catholics---with annulments. The Cardinal seems condescending on Syrian immigrants.---No one wants to talk about helping Syria. Do we send our troops to save Syria---or do we simply bring the majority of the population here?? or do we try to work with Russia and establish a safe zone--protected and funded. Does anyone look at what is best for the Syrians?? Does the Cardinal think through large numbers of people of a different language--culture---religion---life's dream moving across the world--without really having the choice which would be created by making their homeland ink it best--have the Church -create safe cities here. Provide food, housing, medical treatment and transportation. Provide language and culture training. Provide job training and computer training and job placement. . Provide FUNDING from Church funds. Commit to two or three generations. And await the next foreign crisis that displaces populations.
Patrick Murtha
4 months 1 week ago
Actually, the Cardinal actually did not decry or even suggest moving away from the "hot-button issues." His whole point was rather that there has become, in his words, "a chasm between faith and life." Catholics, in other words, are not practicing what they claim to believe. And so, a proper faith would lead to a proper life: which must mean: defending the innocent, particularly the innocent unborn; helping the adulterer to abandon adultery; aiding the homosexual in holding fast to virtue and not being swayed by unnatural passions--in other words, by giving God His due, which is an unconditional love, which includes not merely lambasting the rich for not helping the poor, but being ourselves the one who gives the "widow's mite", which includes being truly charitable by the spiritual works of mercy, as well as by the corporal works of mercy.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The Affordable Care Act has changed our expectations for health care. It shifted the way we live, which may be shifting what we believe.
Michael RozierMay 25, 2017
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speak to the media about President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The U.S. bishops have raised some serious concerns about what this proposal says about our national values.
The EditorsMay 25, 2017
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, following after a Republican policy luncheon. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Congress is asking the nation to make “immoral choices,” said Sister Keehan, the president of the Catholic Health Association.
Kevin ClarkeMay 25, 2017
Philippine government soldiers walk past a mosque before their May 25 assault on Maute insurgents, who have taken over large parts of the town of Marawi. Residents started to evacuate Marawi after President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)
Gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi on May 23.