ORLANDO, Florida – Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, often is styled as among the most prominent “Pope Francis bishops” in America, and he’s indeed a Francis enthusiast. Tobin praised the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders” in Orlando, for instance, as “the first time, at least that I’m aware of, on a national scale, that Church leadership is discussing Pope Francis” due to its focus on Evangelii Gaudium, the pope’s 2013 document on “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Yet if anyone suspects his backing for Francis comes at the expense of Catholic orthodoxy on matters such as the Church’s pro-life teaching or its sexual morality, Tobin has some surprises in store.
Asked about his outspoken support for immigrant rights, for example, he quickly connects it to the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion as a further chapter in the “brutalization of the American heart,” one that “affects not only the immigrant population but all of us.”
On his recent decision to welcome a LGBTQ pilgrimage to the Newark Cathedral, Tobin made clear it was not a prelude to challenging traditional sexual ethics.
“I don’t presume that every person who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ is sexually active,” he said. “If they’re attempting to live a chaste life, then they certainly need the support of the believing community, a chance to pray, and to know that they’re welcomed within the body of Christ.”
The bottom line, according to Tobin, is that “I preach what the Church preaches, and teach what the Church teaches, and believe it with great serenity.” At the same time, he said, “I feel it’s my job to welcome people.”
Tobin spoke to Crux during the convocation in Orlando, which brought together almost 3,500 bishops, clergy, religious, and laity to ponder how to implement Evangelii Gaudium in the contemporary American context.