Is Newark’s archbishop emerging as the leader of the ‘Francis party’?

by Michael Davis

Right now we are the national champions of Pope Francis.” So Crux’s John Allen quotes the organisers of a conference on the Holy Father at Villanova University last week. Similar events took place under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They helped to define the theological and political line taken by their supporters in academia, media and the episcopacy. An invitation to address these symposia marks one out as a “champion” of the Vatican agenda, as the organisers put it. And Villanova’s speakers’ list included some of Francis’s most ardent apologists, including Massimo Faggioli and Fr Antonio Spadaro.

Then there was Cardinal Joseph Tobin – or “Joe”, as his friends at the gym know him. (He’s an avid weightlifter.) The Archbishop of Newark does not look like a stereotypical intellectual. With his rough features and large frame, he seems more like a pugilist than a prince of the Church. But Tobin is one of the Pope’s strongest and most trusted allies in the American hierarchy.

In his speech, the Newark archbishop took aim at those “small enclaves” who “safeguard the treasure of the Christian tradition in its purest form from the corrosive intrusion of a corrupt society”. “Even from ancient times, there have been individuals and movements who have tried to define and delimit what it means to be a Catholic Christian,” Tobin said. “Nevertheless, the Universal Church has always repudiated such attempts. It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong.”

Here he echoes Francis’s new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate. “It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service,” the Holy Father wrote.

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