The Archbishop of Newark has announced that he will not attend an October gathering of bishops slated to discuss young adults and vocational discernment. The archbishop cited his pastoral obligations in the archdiocese amid the U.S. Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis.
“This Synod is a uniquely important moment in the life of the Church, and I was honored to have been named by the Holy Father as a member of this special gathering whose topic, Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, is of vital concern to the Church today and in the future,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin wrote in a Sept. 21 letter to Newark’s Catholics.
“However, as you are aware, the Archdiocese of Newark suffers greatly as a result of the crisis that continues to unfold. After the revelations of the past summer, I could not see myself absent for a month from our archdiocese and from you, the people entrusted to my care. After prayer and consultation, I wrote to Pope Francis, asking that he dispense me from attending, but assuring him that I strongly support the objectives of the Synod and that I would obey whatever he decided.”
“The Holy Father responded the next day with a beautiful pastoral and compassionate message. He told me that he understands why I need to stay close to home, and he released me from the obligation to attend the Synod next month,” Tobin added.
Tobin was a personal appointment of Pope Francis for attendance at the synod of bishops, which will take place Oct. 3-28 in Rome.
Other U.S. bishops who will attend are Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who was also appointed by Pope Francis to attend, along with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, who were elected as delegates by the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Archbishop William Skurla, leader of the Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, who will participate as an ex officio member of the synod.
On Sept. 19, Dutch Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, elected by his country’s episcopal conference, also announced that he would not attend the synod.
According to a statement from the Dutch bishops’ conference, Mutsaerts “informed Pope Francis that he does not find the time right to keep a synod about young people, in view of the investigations and the news about sexual abuse that has been brought out in America, among others. He therefore chooses not to participate.”
Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark has been the subject of controversy in recent months. In June, retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly of Newark, was revealed to have been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1970s. McCarrick was subsequently accused of serially sexually abusing another teenage boy, and of sexually coercing and assaulting numerous priests and seminarians for decades.
Tobin told a journalist in late August that he had heard rumors shortly after his 2017 arrival in the Archdiocese of Newark about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable.
In August, after reports emerged about homosexual behavior among some Newark priests, and allegations were made public regarding the conduct of a former seminary administrator, Tobin told Newark priests that no priest had “ever spoken to me about a gay subculture in the Archdiocese of Newark.”
Later that month, Seton Hall University announced an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary, which is connected to the university.
In his Sept. 21 letter, Tobin said that during a Sept. 14 prayer service at Newark’s cathedral, “I promised that we will act decisively to address the sins and injustices that have been committed against our most vulnerable sisters and brothers and to ensure that victims receive justice. I also acknowledged that rebuilding trust in the leadership of our Church at all levels will require authentic and measurable change.”
“I am keenly aware that words alone are not enough. We must show by our actions that justice will be done. Never again will we permit the horrific abuses that occurred here and in too many other places in our Church. Never again will we return to ‘business as usual,’ allowing human wickedness, sin or hypocrisy to blind us from the truth or prevent us from doing God’s work.”
Tobin asked that Newark’s Catholics pray for Pope Francis and the synod, saying that “during the month of October, and throughout the months and years ahead, I will do everything in my power to lead this Archdiocese through processes of renewal and change that break down structures and systems that permit or foster abuse in any form.”
“I will work for justice, healing and compassion for all.”