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In a press conference attended by members of many media outlets on Oct. 10 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis, Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin, archbishop of Indianapolis, shared the story of how he discovered his new status while spending the night at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad prior to confirming youths in the Tell City Deanery that afternoon.
(Related: Watch a video of the press conference)
“I was opening my iPad early in the morning and I saw lots of tweets, and I thought, ‘Now why on Earth would anybody be tweeting at this hour?’ … I opened one and my initial reaction was, ‘You have to be joking.’ I went to the Vatican website and the list of names was there, and the last one was one that I recognized.”
His initial reaction was one of “shock and a bit of embarrassment,” he said.
“I don’t much like a spotlight like that. I’m not quite over it yet.”
One of the first text messages he received yesterday was “from a fellow Hoosier by the name of Paul Etienne.” Archbishop-designate Etienne is an Indiana native who served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis before being named bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., in 2009. Pope Francis recently named him archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.
“He had called me a little bit before the announcement [of his reassignment to Anchorage]. He comes from a close-knit family down in Tell City, and he had a hard time getting his head around why he was being asked to do this.
“And so when he texted congratulations to me yesterday morning, I texted back, ‘I’m having an Anchorage moment.’ ”
In terms of the possibility of his being reassigned elsewhere, Cardinal-designate Tobin stated with conviction that “I am the archbishop of Indianapolis by God’s grace, and by God’s grace I hope to continue as the archbishop of Indianapolis. Nobody’s told me any differently. … Pope Francis doesn’t like airport bishops—he likes bishops to stay put.”
Cardinal-designate Tobin did go on to say that he has taken a vow of obedience to Pope Francis and the Holy Father’s successors, “and if I’m told to do something else, I will do it to all of my potential.”
He drew a round of laughter when he admitted that, as to how one becomes a cardinal, his answer was simply, “I don’t know.”
(Related: See a photo gallery from the conference)
He described the College of Cardinals as currently consisting of 228 members. A maximum of 120 of those are to be less than the age of 80, thus forming the Cardinal Electors, who chose a successor to the Holy See.
“The 17 cardinals named yesterday come from 14 nations,” he pointed out. “All told, of the 228 cardinals, there are 79 different countries represented.
“I think those are not just empty statistics. They’re statistics that were not true even a few decades ago. … I think actions speak louder than words, that [the pope] seeks to disconnect the individual he chooses from the place he comes from, in the sense that there are no longer cities that automatically get a cardinal. …
“If you ask what Pope Francis’ vision is for the college, it’s to be as much a representative of the catholicity, which is the universality, of the Catholic Church.”
He went on to say that, despite the effort to separate the association of a cardinal from a particular location, “I can’t really be separated from Indianapolis. Not just because I’m so happy here, but because this archdiocese has been my teacher and continues to be.”
Regarding his new duties, Cardinal-designate Tobin noted that the most important duty of a cardinal is to elect a successor. Cardinals are also to be at the “beck and call” of the pope, and to serve on various Vatican commissions.
“We have a tie also to Rome,” he added. “The cardinals emerged out of a body of consultors centuries ago that were the priests of Rome. So all of the cardinals will have a relationship with a parish in Rome. It’s more of a symbolic relationship, but when we’re in Rome we visit that parish to celebrate the Eucharist there.”
The archbishop of the Church in central and southern Indiana is well-known for his close relationship with his family. He is the oldest of 13, and refers to his mother, who is 93, as “the mother of all Tobins.”
The first question at the press conference was an inquiry regarding the response of the archbishop’s mother to the news.
Having received the news early in the morning, he spoke with his siblings but asked them not to awaken their mother. He spoke with her later in the afternoon.
“She said, ‘I’ve only prayed for you to be a good
priest,’ ” the cardinal-designate said. “And I said, ‘Keep praying, because I want to be a good priest to my people.’
“I think she was a little stunned, too. My sisters texted me yesterday and said she was exceptionally quiet yesterday. I think she was trying to wrap her head around it.”
When asked how much his new responsibilities might take him away from the archdiocese, Cardinal-designate Tobin responded that he might have to go to Rome more often, including at least one meeting per year with all of the cardinals and the pope to discuss matters of importance.
“But the Holy Father has been a diocesan bishop, and he places a great priority on our service to our people,” he noted. “I don’t think he’ll be asking me to do something that is frivolous, and I trust that. If I thought he did, I would remind him of what he said about the importance of bishops and clergy staying close to the people.”
He does hope his new designation will increase the likelihood of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis receiving an auxiliary bishop.
“The archdiocese territorially is quite vast,” he said.
“I can get around the archdiocese, but I can’t get around as much as I’d like to. I hope I can use this [designation] as a bit of a bargaining chip to say to the Holy See, ‘In 39 counties, the presence of another bishop could be of great pastoral importance.’ ”
Regarding a question about the official ceremony that will take place in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Nov. 19, Cardinal-designate Tobin described the proceedings, called a consistory.
“That’s when the decree of each nominated cardinal is read, and the Holy Father gives each cardinal the symbols of his responsibility—one is a ring, and the other is a red hat.
“The following day, which is Sunday the 20th, has particular significance this year because it’s the close of the Jubilee of Mercy. … The Holy Father will close the Holy Door that’s only open during a jubilee year. Concelebrating with that Mass will be the new cardinals.”
Father Jonathon Meyer, pastor of All Saints Parish in Dearborn County, was at the press conference with high school students from his parish who had come to visit Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. Father Meyer closed the conference with a question of symbolism regarding the significance to Cardinal-designate Tobin of being named a cardinal during the Holy Year of Mercy.
“I think of the motto that the Holy Father chose for himself when he became bishop,” he responded.
That three-word Latin motto derives from the thoughts of Venerable Bede on the call of the Apostle Matthew, an outcast in Jewish society because he was a tax collector and a sinner. The three words roughly translate to, “Having mercy, he called him.”
“I think Francis has felt that way because he realizes his own failings and his own sinfulness,” said the cardinal-designate. “And yet, he knows that Jesus has called him.
“I would say that for 64 years I realized that this call is in the midst of my own frailty and sinfulness, but it’s because God is merciful, and God can use me however God wants.” †