Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For "Big Red," The Brickyard – Reports Tip Vatican's Tobin as Indy Archbishop

(SVILUPPO: As reported below, the following appointment was officially made by the Vatican at Roman Noon on Thursday, 18 October. Tobin will be installed as the sixth archbishop of Indianapolis on the diocese's patronal feast, December 3rd.)

In a word (or three): Yep – it’s on.

Following up the most conservative major appointment he's made on these shores, the Pope is set to “tack left” with a splash for his next big Stateside pick, naming Archbishop Joseph Tobin – the 60 year-old Redemptorist who's been the Vatican’s number-two official on religious life since 2010 – to lead the 230,000-member archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Relayed earlier today by the Vatican page of the Italian daily La Stampa, Whispers ops in the US and Rome confirmed the move, which is tipped to be announced on Thursday. While talk of the famously gregarious cleric’s departure for Indy had buzzed around the Italian press over recent days, Tobin's potential homecoming to the Indiana post was first reported by The Tablet’s Robert Mickens in his "Letter from Rome" for the London-based weekly’s 2 June edition.

Saying the match "would be great for the church in central and southern Indiana," Mickens likewise noted that – amid significant tensions between the Holy See and the nation's sisters – losing Tobin "would be a blow to the Vatican’s credibility with women religious."

The nominee would succeed Archbishop Daniel Buechlein OSB, who was granted early retirement at age 73 in September 2011 following years of health issues, including multiple bouts with cancer and a stroke. An Indiana native, longtime rector of the seminary at St Meinrad and highly-regarded leader among the US bishops for a quarter-century, the Benedictine monk – named to Indianapolis in 1992 after five years as bishop of Memphis – returned to his community shortly after leaving office. 

One of 13 kids born to a tight-knit Midwestern clan still presided over by his ever-formidable 90 year-old mother, the reported successor has already returned to the US and is said to be remaining in the country until next week.

After serving the maximum two six-year terms as superior-general of the Redemptorists – during which time he was also elected vice-president of the global umbrella-group for the heads of the church’s orders of men, the Union of Superiors General – Tobin memorably learned of his appointment as secretary of the “Congregation for Religious” while staining a deck he built at his mother’s house on a summer visit, saying afterward that he "turned white" on hearing the news. 

Quickly naming five others he thought could do the job better, he was told "The Pope wants you." Tobin accepted the post only after taking a week to pray about it.

By all accounts, the choice of the Detroit native was intended as an olive branch to the US’ communities of women in the wake of the tensions sparked by the 2009 apostolic visitation of the nation’s non-contemplative orders of nuns. While his selection was greeted as a “ray of hope” by the sisters and their supporters (and, indeed, with private sighs of relief by many American bishops), the reaction within the Roman Curia was rather different, an enduring divide highlighted by Tobin’s open admission of "ranting" about its ways, and his pointed barb that the church’s central government needed “to be humble and make sure it is service and not simply bureaucracy.”

In a 2011 interview with Catholic News Service, Tobin said that the congregation's handling of the visitation's early stages had "caused real harm," adding that "some rather unscrupulous canonical advisers" to the orders were also to blame for fanning "rumors" that Rome sought a full-scale clampdown.

Comparing the latter to "Fox News" – "they keep people coming back because they keep them afraid" – the archbishop conceded that "certainly, on our side of the river or our side of the pond," the Vatican "had created an atmosphere where that was possible."

The nuns' visitation having concluded early this year, when its findings were sent to the religious office for final review, the Vatican's course of action in response to the three-year study remains to emerge. From its start, however, Tobin’s term at what’s formally called the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life was only ever expected to last until the process had come in for a “smooth landing”; his return to lead an American archdiocese was well foreseen even before his ordination as a bishop. At the same time, while his tenure at CICLSAL began under the lead champion of the first sisters' investigation, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, the deputy’s conciliatory style and premium on dialogue would be echoed months later in the Pope’s choice of the progressive Brazilian Joao Braz de Aviz to succeed Rodé on his retirement.

The congregation oversees the life and activities of the church's roughly one million consecrated men and women worldwide.

Explaining his style in a talk to the 2010 chapter of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Tobin (shown at the piano with his family at his post-ordination lunch) said that his approach on entering a community was that “I am not here as a policeman, nor am I here as a tourist – I'm here about something much more serious: it's about what we have bet our lives on.

You and I have bet our lives on a person, on a message, on the dream of a kingdom," he said.

Still to be ordained a bishop at the time, Tobin added that, in a preliminary conversation on accepting the religious post, the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told him that the "mission" of his office was "not to control religious life – it is to encourage religious life.

"I believe that with all my heart," Tobin said, noting that Bertone's statement made him feel "liberated." 

"There's no need for fear," he pledged. "We religious ought to be masters of dialogue, because we are masters of the fraternal life – and, without dialogue, fraternal life is impossible."

Of course, perceptions of a Roman drive to "control" the nation’s 57,000 sisters would erupt again earlier this year on the Holy See’s announcement of a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the group representing a majority of the communities’ superiors. Yet in a key shift from the 2009 visitation, the action on the predominantly-liberal LCWR would be taken not by Tobin’s staff, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

In marked contrast to the thinly-veiled antagonism surrounding the latest probe, following a meeting Tobin held with LCWR last spring related to the 2009 visitation, the sisters' group warmly described the sit-down as "exceedingly cordial," calling its exchange with the archbishop "open, honest and engaging."

Speaking of the LCWR reform, two of the three US bishops charged with overseeing the shake-up – Bishops Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois and Leonard Blair of Toledo – were said to have ranked high among the field of contenders for the Indianapolis appointment. 

Then again, as B16 reportedly remarked to Tobin shortly after he was elected Pope, “Father Tobin, we’ve known each other a long time. We’ve talked about many difficult things, but we’ve always found a solution.” 

Conspicuously, the reported nod would be the second in as many weeks to see a highly-regarded Vatican "fixer" on a contentious, high-profile issue in the modern church being sent home to a diocese. The first, of course, was the 6 October appointment of Msgr Charles Scicluna – the Holy See's longtime chief prosecutor on clergy sex-abuse cases – as auxiliary bishop of his native archdiocese of Malta.

* * *
Among other unusual aspects, a Joe Tobin move to Indy would see the Hoosier chair – historically, an influential post among the US bishops – be held by consecutive occupants from religious orders. Yet while the Benedictine Buechlein came to be known for an austere style, by contrast, his reported Redemptorist successor can be expected to hit the ground as something of a force of nature: energetic, ebullient, impassioned, and not exactly renowned for a sense of reserve. What’s more, the polyglot Curialist arrives particularly well-equipped to fill what’s often been cited as the key pastoral need of the archdiocese; amid a spike of the Indy church’s Hispanic population over recent years, Tobin served for a decade as parochial vicar, then pastor of a mostly Mexican parish in Detroit (then another in Chicago) and is fluent in the language.

With his mix of a pastoral spirit and sharp administrative skills, Tobin has long been cited as a potential choice for the archbishopric of Chicago, where the topic of succession has emerged in earnest over recent months following the recurrence of cancer in Cardinal Francis George’s kidney and a new round of treatment for the 75 year-old prelate, the "intellectual leader" of the American bishops and widely thought to be the closest domestic hierarch to the Pope. 

Given the current dynamic of an appointment process whose results are increasingly unpredictable, an Indy move doesn’t necessarily preclude a further shift west; George himself served as archbishop of Portland for all of ten months before his surprise return to his hometown. Either way, it bears recalling that – in a unique history for a top American post – every Chicago pick since 1939 was already an archbishop elsewhere at the time of his appointment to the Windy City. Over his seven and a half years as Pope, Benedict XVI has notably extended the practice to his three most significant US placements: the traditional “cardinalatial” seats of New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

An Indy nod would mark Benedict’s 22nd appointment to the nation’s 33 Latin-church archdioceses. Another metropolitan handover – Portland, where Archbishop John Vlazny reached the retirement age of 75 in February – is also said to be nearing.

While the transfer of Roman archbishop-secretaries to dioceses in their home countries is a fairly routine practice, the last time it happened in the Stateside church came in 1994, when the then-#2 at the Congregation for Bishops, Justin Rigali, was sent to St Louis after three decades in the Vatican's service. Nine years later, two weeks after his installation in a larger archdiocese, the LA-born diplomat received the cardinal’s red hat.

As with last month's appointment to Lincoln, the arrival of Buechlein's permanent successor could signal a coming transfer for Indy's apostolic administrator, Bishop Christopher Coyne, who was quickly named the archdiocese's first auxiliary since the 1930s early last year in light of the archbishop’s weakening health. (Buechlein's initial request – for a coadjutor – was turned down by Rome in late 2010 as the length of a search would have excessively delayed the needed assistance.)

Having braved a "baptism by fire" on being made to take the archdiocese's reins within weeks of being parachuted in from a pastorate in the Boston suburbs, the 54 year-old prelate – the first blogging priest to be named a bishop – has gotten big "Amens" from the local crowd for a steady, disciplined and energizing turn at the helm.

According to the norms of the canons, an installation would be required to take place within two months of the transfer's official announcement.

SVILUPPO: By Wednesday afternoon, it emerged that the Appointment Day press conference had been scheduled for 10am on Thursday, 18 October, in Indianapolis' Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, where Tobin's installation is slated to take place on December 3rd.