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Profile: Fr. Joseph Tobin, Archbishop-elect and newly Appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Religious

Randy Sly - Mon, Apr 16th 2012





Profile: Fr. Joseph Tobin, Archbishop-elect and newly Appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Religious



Catholic Online (



Fr. Joseph Tobin, a Detroit native and former Superior General of the Redemptorists, has been chosen to serve as Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, commonly known as the 'Congregation for Religious.'




WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On August 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI announced his selection of Fr. Joseph Tobin, a Detroit native and former Superior General of the Redemptorists, as Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, commonly known as the "Congregation for Religious."  


This office oversees over 1,000,000 people in religious and consecrated life. The Holy Father made his choice known at noon, Rome time, on the Feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists.


He will serve under Cardinal Frank Rodé, CM, of Slovenia, the current prefect of the Congregation.


Anna Arco, of the UK Catholic Herald noted that when the Redemptorist received the phone call from the Pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Berntone, he was reluctant to take the appointment.


The Cardinal reminded him "of words spoken in Pope Benedict's inaugural homily. The Holy Father said that in becoming Pope he must assume 'an enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity.' If Benedict could assume the papacy, then Fr Tobin could become the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life," Arco reported.


The reporter's description of the new Secretary provides a consensus opinion shared by those who know him. She writes, "The tall and broad-shouldered Michigan native fills the little sitting room with his surprisingly gentle presence. 


"He jokes that he's not quite sure why he has been appointed except that someone opened a book and put a finger on his name. He comes across as a person who will listen and deliberate before he acts. Over a cup of tea, with the rain pouring outside, he talks about living in Britain's secular culture, the Roman Curia he is about to join and the challenges of his new job."


Catholic Online's Founder and Publisher, Michael Galloway, has known the new secretary for many years. "We have eaten together, traveled together and shared many deep and rich conversations about our Church. His support and friendship over the years has really been a gift to me. I can't think of anyone who is better qualified to help navigate this congregation during these trying times than Father Tobin."


By virtue of this selection, Tobin becomes an archbishop. The date of his Episcopal ordination has not yet been announced, but Cardinal Bertone requested that he begin his work immediately as the post has been vacant for eight months and the congregation has been overseen the by a Salesian nun who serves as undersecretary.


Tobin's appointment comes at a time when the Congregation has moved into the spotlight through the visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, and other members were accused of sexual misbehavior and abuse.


Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen, of the National Catholic Reporter, asked the new leader, just days after the announcement, what role he expects to play in the investigation.


"The visitor has a pretty complete set of faculties to deal with the situation," he told Allen. "But I imagine that at some point he'll make recommendations to the congregation. I'm sure the dicastery will want to stay informed. 


"As you know, a house of cards has been constructed in the media and elsewhere to portray Benedict XVI as somehow uncaring or soft on clerical sexual misconduct, but it has to answer the point that one of the first things he did as pope was to deal with Maciel. That action spoke volumes, because I had been in Rome and I saw the incredible clout Maciel had. 


"The fact that Benedict did it, and did it quickly, was a clear signal that the pope is serious about correcting this thing. Theologically and spiritually, I think the Legionaries face enormous challenges, given how much religious life tends to stress the person and the inspiration of the founder."


Another area under investigation involves women religious in the United States. Allen asked the Archbishop-elect whether he thought there was any connection between this and his appointment.


"I think so. Maybe it suggests some awareness of just how badly this thing has gone down. This week [Ed. - August 7] I'll be attending the meeting of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in Long Beach, California, and some of the officers of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious will be there. 


"It's my intention to meet with them, to talk about how we can bring life from this. I want to have a frank discussion to help me shape my thinking and whatever proposals I might bring to the congregation."


A few weeks after the announcement, Fr. Tobin spoke with Robert Delaney of The Michigan Catholic (Archdiocese of Detroit). He said the announcement had taken him by surprise.


"It was not something that was on my radar screen," he told Delaney in a telephone interview from his mother's home in Stoney Point, Ontario, about 35 miles east of Windsor. It was there, in fact, where Fr. Tobin received the call as he had taken time during his sabbatical to paint her house.


He went on to express his enthusiasm for the appointment saying, "I believe in the consecrated life, and anything I can do in the Church to see that it will continue and prosper, I'm willing to do that."


Fr. Tobin, 58, had served the order in a number of leadership capacities and finally as the Superior General for two terms, from 1997 to 2009. His early years of ministry were spent in the Midwest, as a pastor in Detroit, where he was born and raised, as well as Chicago.


In one assignment, he served as pastor of his home parish, Holy Redeemer Church in southwest Detroit. The oldest of 13 children and growing up one block from the parish, he said that some of the older parishioners were quite surprised to see this young "ruffian" now celebrating the Mass at the altar.


"We had a clear sense of mission at Holy Redeemer, and the opportunity to share that sense of mission, working with my fellow Redemptorists and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary," he said.


Although he was to leave Holy Redeemer to take an assignment in Chicago, and then go on to national and international positions, the archbishop-designate said he has always kept up with news of his home parish and of Detroit, "of both its struggles and its victories."


The congregation - officially known in Rome as the Congregatio pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae - is responsible for everything that concerns institutes of consecrated life, including men's and women's orders and religious congregations and secular institutes as well as societies of apòstolic life. As a part of the Roman Curia, they oversee everything regarding government, discipline, studies, goods, rights and privileges.


Established by Pope Sixtus V, May 27, 1586, it was originally called the Sacred Congregation for Consultations about Regulars. The congregation subsequently went through a number of name changes, being called the Congregation of the Affairs of Religious in 1908, then the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes in 1967, an alteration made by Pope Paul VI. In 1988 Pope John Paul II adopted its current name.




Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online ( He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

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