Monday, August 02, 2010

Big Red Gets Purple -- Detroit's Tobin Named #2 at "Religious"

Major news out of Rome this morning for the Stateside church, especially its religious men and women -- against the backdrop of the controversial Apostolic Visitation of the nation's communities of women, an American cleric has been named to the #2 post of the Vatican office overseeing the global church's million-strong professed members.

At Roman Noon, the Pope appointed Redemptorist Fr Joseph Tobin, 58, as Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL). With the move, the Detroit native and two-term head (1997-2009) of the community founded by St Alphonsus Liguori becomes an archbishop.

Tobin is the second US cleric to hold the post -- in 1969, Holy Cross Fr Edward Heston, an Ohio native, was named archbishop-secretary of the "Congregation for Religious," as it's still widely known. In the years since, the dicastery's last American in a superior-level post was then-Msgr Joseph Galante, who served as its #3 from 1987-92, when he was named an auxiliary bishop of San Antonio; a River City native, Galante currently heads South Jersey's 560,000-member diocese of Camden.

Professed in 1976 and ordained two years later, the archbishop-elect's early ministry was spent pastoring inner-city parishes in Detroit and Chicago. "Beyond fluent" in Spanish -- along with Italian, French, Portuguese and "dabbling" in several others -- the experience was said to have birthed a bond with the poor which, during his generalate, saw Tobin urge his 6,000 confreres to keep the care of the marginalized at the core of their work. Following his 1997 election in the footsteps of St Alphonsus, the new Secretary's regard among his colleagues was evidenced in Tobin's election as vice-president of the Union of Superiors General, the umbrella group for the heads of mens' communities, which brought him into close collaboration with the Curial Congregation he'll soon help lead.

A veteran of no less than five Synods of Bishops, after serving the maximum 12-year mandate at the helm of the Reds' Motherhouse on Via Merulana and handing over the community's reins at last year's General Chapter, in late May Tobin's enduring favor in Vatican circles was further underscored when he was named to oversee the professed mens' portion of the forthcoming Apostolic Visitation of the church in Ireland, which is reportedly slated to get underway come September.

Ultimately, though, the move is a clear commentary on the difficulties the Holy See has faced in carrying out another Visitation: the much-maligned investigation of the nation's 300-plus womens' institutes engaged in apostolic work in the world.

With the process now in the midst of site visits to selected communities and slated to wrap late next year, Tobin's appointment indicates a Vatican push for a smooth close to the years-long study by placing an American sensibility at the helm, all the more in the form of a choice well-known as "a pastor" who's earned high marks for working in a conciliatory, collegial style. In his new post, the archbishop-elect will serve as deputy to the womens' Visitation's chief advocate and overseer, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé CM, who reached the retirement age of 75 last September.

Tobin becomes the second US religious named a major superior in the Curia within the last year; the other is Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia OP, the longtime #3 to Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and William Levada at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who B16 tapped as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments last summer. As of this writing, plans for Tobin's ordination to the episcopacy remain to be determined -- normally, the archbishop-secretaries of the powerful nine congregations that oversee the church's internal life are raised to the episcopacy by their new boss at a rite in Rome.

Lastly, especially given its confluence with the Vatican's "dead season" of August, the timing is conspicuous on two accounts: first, yesterday was the feast of the Redemptorist founder. Second, this week sees the annual assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men -- the American church's leadership caucus of male religious -- which is meeting this year in Long Beach.

Tobin is en route to the CMSM gathering, where he was already slated to speak. Likewise of keen significance, the assembly's keynote will be given by the nation's senior male religious -- the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate.

PHOTOS: L'Osservatore Romano(1); Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer(2)