INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — Last December, Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis made national news by defending the decision of his archdiocese to resettle a Syrian refugee family through the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities agency — a decision that went against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s ban on resettling Syrian refugees in the state.
When he was again in the national news Oct. 9 — announced as one of the 17 new cardinals named by Pope Francis and to be inducted into the College of Cardinals Nov. 19 — the cardinal-designate tweeted this simple message: “I am shocked beyond words by the decision of the Holy Father. Please pray for me.”
In a statement that day, he said he has “come to love deeply” the Catholics in central and southern Indiana and was blessed with friendships with civic and religious leaders in the state.
“I ask all people of faith to pray for me. I hope this new responsibility will make me a better servant of all Hoosiers,” he said before adding his prayers and support for the other U.S. cardinals-designate.
Cardinal-designate Tobin, who will be the first cardinal for the Indianapolis Archdiocese, has pretty much remained under the national radar, other than the state refugee situation. He goes by the simple Twitter handle: @JoeTobin and his Twitter followers, small in comparison to Pope Francis’ numbers, jumped in the hours since the pope’s announcement to 1,744 Oct. 10.
That’s not to say he hasn’t been noticed in church circles. Prior to his appointment as Indianapolis archbishop in 2012, he was the archbishop-secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life where he oversaw more than 1 million men and women in the religious orders around the world.
The 64-year-old cardinal-designate is a member of the Redemptorist order and a Detroit native who is the oldest of 13 children.
Last year, after Pence — now on the Republican ticket as Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate — announced he would suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, the cardinal-designate met with the governor to discuss the plight of the family the archdiocese was assisting to reassure the governor that they had gone through an extensive background check, and to explain the archdiocese’s refugee resettlement process.
A federal judge had issued a preliminary injunction blocking Pence’s order and on Oct. 3, a U.S. appeals court upheld the judge’s decision, stating that the governor cannot block aid to Syrian refugees resettling in Indiana.
A native of Detroit, the cardinal-designate was ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1978, serving as an inner-city parish priest in his hometown and in Chicago. He also served in Rome as general consultor of the Redemptorist congregation and later was as the order’s superior general.
At his installation Mass Dec. 3, 2012, as the archbishop of Indianapolis, the cardinal-designate said: “What we will do together as a church, we will do with passion, the passion that characterized our patron saint, Francis Xavier.”
“And we will do whatever the Lord asks us to do in bringing the good news, especially to those who have the least chance of hearing it, for those who live on the margin of things, for those who have been hurt by the church, for those who feel themselves to be forgotten,” he added.
The cardinal-designate has been co-chairman of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation since June 2013 and also has been a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Africa since that same time. He is chairmen-elect of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and will become chairman after the fall general assembly this November.
Cardinal-designate Tobin was part of a moderated discussion during the Oct. 7-9 “Women of the Church: A Catholic Leadership Conference” in Ferdinand, Indiana.
According to coverage of the event by the National Catholic Reporter, the cardinal-designate said he was “praying Pope Francis can make good on his promise to find more incisive and visible roles for women in the church.”
“But I also think it’s important for that women help young women understand why this is home for them, despite the spots and wrinkles and, yes, injustice. That’s a message that will not be as credible if it comes from me.” he said.