Pope names cardinal for Newark as part of effort to remake America’s church

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pressing his campaign to remake the U.S. Catholic church, Pope Francis on Monday tapped one of his new cardinals, Joseph Tobin, to replace the Newark, New Jersey archbishop who has been criticized for allegedly mishandling sex-abuse cases and spending lavishly on his retirement home.

The Vatican announced that Tobin would succeed Archbishop John Myers, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in July. Tobin, currently the archbishop of Indianapolis, is one of three American prelates whom Francis will formally elevate as cardinals on Nov. 19 at the Vatican.

Tobin’s new assignment marks a transition in Newark away from an archbishop who was focused on drawing hard lines about Catholic orthodoxy and provides a fresh start for an archdiocese battered by controversies over Myers’ leadership.

Tobin had made a name for himself in the Vatican as the former No. 2 at the Holy See’s office for religious orders, where he worked to heal relationships with U.S. nuns amid an uproar over two Vatican investigations into their adherence to doctrine. The inquiries began under Pope Benedict XVI and ended under Francis, who praised the sisters for their work with the poor and disenfranchised.

Tobin more recently opposed the position of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now the Republican vice presidential candidate, who wanted to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in the state.

At a news conference Monday at the Newark cathedral, Tobin pledged to bring transparency to the archdiocese and communicate directly with clergy and parishioners. He noted Francis’ oft-repeated plea that the church act as a “field hospital.” Tobin said his aim will be to “heal wounded hearts, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good.”

“I hope to be able to reach out to people who have been hurt because I think that’s part of my mission,” Tobin said.

Speaking the day before the election, Tobin said Catholics, when voting, should examine whether candidates are “calling us together or are they separating us?”

He lamented political polarization in the U.S. and warned that those divisions can inadvertently permeate the church. “We don’t want to hear each other’s ideas,” Tobin said.

The Newark archdiocese serves about 1.7 million Catholics of diverse backgrounds. About 20 percent are Latino and nearly as many are black. Tobin said he looked forward to leading an archdiocese where Mass is celebrated each Sunday in 20 languages. The cardinal-elect, a 64-year-old Detroit native, has traveled the world as head of his religious order, the Redemptorists, speaks Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French.

He will be installed as head of the archdiocese on Jan. 6.

Myers has served in the post for 15 years. Three years ago, he faced allegations that he failed to stop an abusive priest from attending youth retreats, despite the priest’s agreement with prosecutors that he would stay away from children. The priest was later defrocked. Myers’ spokesman has defended the archbishop’s record on child protection, saying he had removed more than a dozen abusive clergy from the ministry.

Myers also came under fire when The Star-Ledger newspaper reported the archdiocese was spending about $500,000 to build a more than 3,000-square-foot (280-square-meter) addition to his New Jersey retirement home. The extension included a fifth bedroom, three fireplaces and an indoor exercise pool.  Myers defended the costs by saying he needed an office and wanted more privacy for visiting bishops.

Last year, Myers fired a gay priest as chaplain at Seton Hall University because the priest expressed support on social media for an anti-bullying campaign that aimed to protect gays and lesbians. In August, Myers barred the priest completely from public ministry over his support for both LGBT rights groups and a female Catholic high school counselor fired for marrying a woman.

Francis has reached out to gay Catholics and has refrained from emphasizing culture war issues as his predecessors did, part of his focus on showing a more merciful, welcoming side of the Catholic Church. Known for his own simple lifestyle, Francis has also made the plight of refugees a hallmark.

Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at Villanova University, said Tobin’s nomination confirms a pattern Francis has set by moving bishops he knows well into important posts in the U.S. church.

Geographically, Tobin will be moving “right in the middle of two very important bishops who do not always see eye to eye with Pope Francis” — the conservatives Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Tobin said he met Francis at a Vatican synod, or bishops’ meeting in 2005, when the pope was still archbishop of Buenos Aires. Tobin said he told the then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio that Tobin’s mother had hoped the Argentine would be elected pope because “you pick up after yourself, you cook your food, you drive a modest car.” Tobin said the pope years later wrote him a note recalling that conversation fondly.

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Zoll reported from New York.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.