Thursday, May 18, 2017

For Communications Day, "Big Red" Seeks "Bridges," Not "Tunnels"

Four months into an experiment without precedent in American Catholic life, to speak of "the Cardinal-Archbishop of Newark" still takes some getting used to. And even more, when you've been around long enough to recall the relentless dumping on the place in which a certain late occupant of the chair across the Hudson took mountains of relish, the new state of things is all the more extraordinary.

To be sure, the "Clash of the Titans" for which some partisans have been salivating has not come to pass – at least, not yet. But little by little – with subtle swings on "evil empires," gays and lesbians, polarization, Amoris and the like – Cardinal Joe Tobin has taken to carving out his own niche, both in the church's top rank and the nation's largest media market.

Catapulted into the scarlet and the Northeast to the shock of many – elsewhere, that is – the place the former Redemptorist general and top Curial official holds in the current dynamic has a rough equivalent in recent times: just as another Midwestern-born religious superior in Rome was vaulted from relative obscurity into becoming the articulator of the Stateside church's mission in the zeitgeist, to Mamma Tobin's eldest boy now belongs the role occupied by Francis George over the prior generation of the bench. (Indeed, it bears recalling that Tobin's November elevation coincided with the start of his three-year term at the helm of the USCCB arm for clergy, consecrated life and vocations – one of the Mothership's "Big Four" committee chairs – in which he'll oversee the national implementation of the Holy See's new global guidelines for priestly formation.)

At January's installation (video), perhaps the most striking element of the scene was the full descent of the New York press corps – which packed a transept of the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart, as every TV station's live trucks lined the street outside – in the biggest media throng Jersey Catholicism had seen since the Papal Visit of 1995.

Three years earlier in the same place, the "press box" for Bernie Hebda's ultimately-thwarted start as the next archbishop was made up of this scribe and crickets, so the contrast was as stark as the blinding Klieg lights that came out for Tobin's entrance (above). And as Francis' second, finally successful pick for Newark stomped around every aisle of the French-Gothic cathedral to show his letter of appointment (holding the parchment bull over his head), it was no less telling that Jim Goodness, the long-suffering archdiocesan spokesman, was heard to exult to no one in particular that "We have a showman!"

While the initial frenzy's calmed down, having spent the spring in "town hall" meetings and regional Masses across his new, 1.3 million-member turf, yesterday saw "Big Red" in his most high-profile Gotham turn since his launch, headlining the Brooklyn diocese's annual gathering of Catholic and secular press pros for World Communications Day – marked across the church on the so-called "Ascension Sunday," the lone ecclesial event called for by Vatican II.

Long on-record blasting what he's termed a "Fox News" approach that "keep[s] people coming back because they keep them afraid," albeit without naming the cable outlet this time, the thread returned again in Tobin's keynote, which focused on the imperative of "communicating hope" in a time of societal tumult, drawing heavily from a widely-covered intervention he made in March on behalf of an undocumented immigrant facing deportation.

Here, the fullvid: