Another American clergyman is heading to Rome to take up a high position in the Vatican. In early August, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Redemptorist Father Joseph W. Tobin as the secretary — No. 2 official — for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSA) — also known as the Congregation for Religious. With the appointment, Father Tobin will be ordained an archbishop. 

Our Sunday Visitor caught up by telephone with Archbishop-designate Tobin at Los Angeles International Airport to find out more about his work and what bearing it will have on issues touching religious life in the Church today. He had been attending a meeting of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in the United States and officers from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Long Beach, Calif. 

OSV: Can you give examples of the kinds of decisions that the congregation has made that people might be familiar with? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: One that a lot of people will be familiar with is the visitation of the religious sisters in the United States. This was the congregation that initiated it and will see it through. There has been a lot of misunderstanding around that, and a lot of hard feelings, so I was glad this past week to talk with the leadership of the sisters and that we got to know one another. 

OSV: Why was there a misunderstanding on the religious sisters’ visitation? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: As far as I understand it, it was perceived by some American sisters as a questioning of their faithfulness or orthodoxy, which I don’t think was the intention. It’s like they used to say to us about preaching — it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear that counts. 

OSV: What is going to be your approach to the visitation? Are you going to do anything to change the perception that the Vatican is “checking up on” the orders in the United States? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: I heard the women religious speak at this meeting I was attending, and I think that while I wouldn’t say that all suspicions have been dispelled, I think there is a feeling among the sisters — as reported among the leaders — that there is cooperation and a greater sense of solidarity among the sisters themselves, and they find that to be very helpful.  

OSV: What sort of impact do you think the scandal caused by the revelations of Father Marciel Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, will have on religious life? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: It’s a terrible dilemma that the Legionaries find themselves in. I think it’s just been horrendous for them, and I have a lot of sympathy for them. In addition, there was a sort of nova effect, where anyone who follows that sort of life is not untouched. Some people can distinguish, of course, but others will paint with a broad brush. 

For the rest of us, on the one hand, it was a real shock, but on the other hand, it said something to us as religious about the Holy Father. He didn’t hesitate. Once he became pope, he looked seriously at this, and once he saw the facts to be true, he acted on the truth. That is a great, decisive thing, because the Legionaries had a lot of respect in some sectors of Rome. So, I think it was a courageous act of the Holy Father’s.  

OSV: More generally, to what extent are you going to be doing anything about the sexual scandal in regard to religious orders?  

Archbishop-designate Tobin: The religious have had serious allegations and serious conduct on the part of religious. The John Jay Report that came out in 2004 reported a smaller percentage (compared to diocesan priests). But the religious are bound by the norms that were passed by the U.S. bishops in 2002. The religious also have their own set of safeguarding norms, which most religious orders subscribe to. There are already things in place, but that wouldn’t be true in every country.  

OSV: There is a perception out there — perhaps false — that Pope John Paul II was more enthusiastic about and showed deference to the newer orders that had been formed. Is there a similar perception regarding Pope Benedict XVI? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: There’s no question that John Paul II saw especially the lay ecclesial movements ... as a real gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. I think that’s a good assessment. Because they were new, they needed to be nurtured a bit. So, if I would hear religious at the time saying that we’re not getting much attention, I would also say that we’ve been around the block once or twice and have the maturity to carry on. I think Benedict has certainly gone out of his way — he’s met with all the religious superiors in Rome shortly after his election. A year later he met with the leadership councils of both the men and the women superior generals. I was a part of that meeting; it was supposed to go a half-hour and it went an hour and a half. The Holy Father just continued; he was very cordial and interested.  

OSV: Will the CICLSA become involved with the fracas between religious sisters and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over President Barack Obama’s health care bill — now become law? 

Archbishop-designate Tobin: I don’t know if it’s been addressed or whether there have been meetings on it. But I can tell you that, as a superior general, my policy was that I much prefer problems to be worked out at the proper level without interference from our general house. If they can’t do it and made a good will effort and just remain at loggerheads, then as a matter of charity and justice, you have to do something to help the parties involved. You have to help people sort it out. But I don’t think that superior authority should be too quick to intervene until they’re convinced that the solution for people on their own [won’t work]. 

Joseph O’Brien writes from Wisconsin.

Americans at the Vatican (sidebar)

In his new appointment, Archbishop-designate Tobin will be joining other American clergy in high-ranking positions at the Vatican: 

  • Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
  •  Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. 
  • Archbishop J. Augustine “Gus” Di Noia, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. 
  • Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the Papal Household.

Getting to Know the Secretary (sidebar)

Archbishop-designate Tobin, 58, is a Detroit native who grew up in a Redemptorist parish before joining the order 38 years ago. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1978 and served as superior general of the worldwide Redemptorist order from 1997 to 2009. 

Coming from a big family played a role in his decision to join an order. “I’m the oldest of 13 kids, and I really love my brothers and sisters, and I’ve always loved living in community of one sort or another. The fact that the Redemptorists live in community and take it seriously was a factor for me.”