Cardinal Tobin appointed member of Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops

CNA 5d0288ce375f2 157035 Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. | Kate Veik/CNA

Pope Francis on Thursday appointed the archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

Pope Francis also named Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, a member of the same 25-member Vatican congregation.

As a member, Cardinal Tobin joins another American, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., was also a member of the Congregation for Bishops until aging out in November 2020 at the age of 80.

The Congregation for Bishops is responsible for overseeing the selection and appointment of bishops. It also deals with the erection and suppression of dioceses, oversight of bishops, and the preparation for and response to bishops' ad limina visits to Rome.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who turned 76 last June and is one of several cardinals of retirement age leading curial departments expected to soon be replaced by Pope Francis.

Sources in Rome who spoke recently to CNA on background said that Pope Francis may be considering Cupich to replace Ouellet. Another possible replacement, according to sources, is another member of the Congregation of Bishops: Chicago-born Augustinian missionary Bishop Robert Francis Prevost.

Prevost was made one of the few non-cardinal members of the Congregation for Bishops in November 2020. Of French and Spanish descent, he spent a significant amount of his pastoral life in the Northern Peruvian Andes before being appointed Bishop of Chiclayo, Peru, by Pope Francis in 2015. 

Prevost had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 1, further propelling speculation that he could be headed from Peru to Rome.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops does not have unlimited power in episcopal appointments, but plays a significant role in the process, part of which includes meeting with the pope most Saturdays.

The process of appointing a bishop typically begins with a series of consultations at the local level, followed by recommendations made by the apostolic nuncio. Then a dossier is prepared and members of the congregation meet to discuss candidates. Finally, a name or names are proposed to the pope, who appoints the future bishop.

The 68-year-old Tobin has led the Archdiocese of Newark since January 2017. Before that, he led the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after two years in Rome as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

In 2018, he was one of six U.S. bishops called to participate in the Vatican's Youth Synod, after he was appointed a delegate by Pope Francis. But he did not attend the event, citing his pastoral obligations in Newark archdiocese.

Tobin was born in Detroit and is a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or Redemptorists. Since 2019, he has also been a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

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