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Another American prelate goes to Rome

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 02, 2010

Today's news from Rome brings the announcement that Father Joseph William Tobin-- soon to be Archbishop Tobin-- has been named secretary of the Congregation for Religious. The Redemptorist priest  will be joining a large and growing group of Americans holding influential posts in the Roman Curia.

In all likelihood, Pope Benedict wanted an American at the Congregation for Religious, to help that office handle one of the most delicate tasks currently on its docket: the apostolic vistitation of women's religious orders. The prefect-- Archbishop-elect Tobin's new boss, Cardinal Franc Rodé-- is dead serious about that effort; he has spoken with unusual candor about how many women's religious orders seem to be headed down a dead-end street, abandoning their traditions and their loyalty to the institutional Church. But several American prelates have spoken in defense of the American religious orders, creating the impression that they hope the Vatican will drop the investigation and/or conclude with a bland report affirming that all is well-- despite the abundant evidence to the contrary. The newest American member of the curial staff will be faced with the daunting challenge of negotiating between those who call for a thorough investigation with those who prefer a whitewash. 

If it's true that the Holy Father was looking for an American to fill this particular post, it isn't the first time. Recall that shortly after his election to the papacy, he appointed then-Archbishop William Levada to be his own successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At the time, that office was swamped with dossiers coming from the US, involving the disciplinary handling of priests accused of sexual abuse. It made sense to appoint an American prefect, who would understand the history of the problem. (Now that European countries are catching up with the US in the discovery of sex-abuse complaints, the case for an American prefect is no longer compelling, and Cardinal Levada might be replaced in a year or two, after he has filled a normal term at the job.) 

The roster of American bishops working at the Vatican now includes:

  • Cardinal Levada at CDF
  • Archbishop Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura
  • Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the Pontifical Household
  • Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and 
  • Archbishop-elect Tobin at the Congregation for Religious

Add Cardinal Bernard Law, the archpriest of St. Mary Major basilica. Don't forget Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the retired president of the Vatican governatorate. And Cardinals William Baum and James Francis Stafford, each of whom is retired after holding a number of Vatican posts, in each case concluding with a term as head of the Apostolic Penitentiary. 

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  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Aug. 04, 2010 8:47 AM ET USA

    This is a good move. While I don't know much about Archbishop-elect Tobin's orthodoxy, he's been in Rome a long time as a consultor to the Redemptorist Superior General. He also is not a diocesan priest so he doesn't have divided loyalty to the American prelates who are calling for a PR whitewashing of the rebellious sisters. Plus, he comes from a fairly liberal religious order so he can't be branded with the "right-wing reactionary" label.

  • Posted by: Lilacs2me - Aug. 03, 2010 7:36 PM ET USA

    That's great, but considering how pitifully few good bishops we have in this country, I would prefer they remain here to clean oup the mess.

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