U.S. Redemptorist Fr. Joseph Tobin to Lead Congregation for the Clergy, Become Archbishop
with friends and they say, 'How are things at the Vatican?' and I say, 'I don't know. I don't work there'.
"Our general house is on the other side of the river so I'll have to learn some of the ins and outs and then the priorities."
Would he say the Vatican is sometimes disconnected from the Church or does it just seem like that sometimes? "I think it can seem very disconnected, especially from particular churches," Fr Tobin says carefully. "I think those who work in the Vatican have to be aware of that."
He describes spending half the year on the road during his time as superior-general of the Redemptorists, living with his brothers and the people they serve around the world and draws a parallel. There needs to be more communication between the Vatican and the local churches.
"But my hope is that the Vatican's relationship with the local churches can be a sort of creative tension. I think life without tension would be very boring and useless.We can't walk, we can't talk, we can't sing without tension. You need to have tension in your vocal chords and your back, let alone a guitar. However, tension can be destructive. The challenge is to recognise the diversity of gifts and the plurality of churches and the one spirit that unites us. And I think that is the adventure of a lifetime."
Does the Roman Curia need to change its culture and become more transparent and sensitive?
"On the one hand it is the oldest bureaucracy in the world," he says. "People love to say that. On the other hand, that bureaucracy, as one of our historians pointed out to me when I was ranting about the Curia: 'Don't forget, it guided the Church through a couple of world wars and great depressions and times when the Pope had died or was kidnapped by Napoleon.' In that sense it has provided a service, but I think it has to be humble and make sure it is service and not simply bureaucracy."
Fr Tobin has spent the last eight months taking a well-deserved break attached to Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, and staying with the De La Salle Brothers. He pursued his interest in the rise of secularisation and secular culture, attending seminars by the sociologist of religion and anthropologist Peter Clarke, studying at the Las Casas Institute and taking classes at Blackfriars.
He is sad to miss the Pope's visit to Britain. He was hoping for a seat on the Blackfriars/Oxford Oratory bus. He says it would have been interesting to observe the visit given the climate in Britain at the moment. Part of his reason for being in Oxford is his realisation that he had never experienced European expressions of secularised culture.
As he will be running the day-to-day business of religious oders and apostolic institutes, does he think that religious and consecrated life will play a more crucial role in the changing Church?
"I think that religious life does have a place to play," he says. "And interestingly enough, if you look at the official statements of the Church there has been a change or at least a development from the Vatican Council which saw religious life as essential for the holiness of the Church. I think it was Vita Consecrata, John Paul's statement on religious life. He said it's essential for the Church, so it wasn't simply a qualified 'for the holiness of the Church'.
"Having said that, I really believe, if you want a caricature, that the future of the Church is lay: in terms of sheer numbers, appreciation of the gift of baptism and the common priesthood of the faithful. These make that a real possibility.
"However, I think that the Church would be poorer without this form of life as an alternative way to follow Christ."
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