Newark Archbishop Skips Vatican Invitation to Focus on Abuse Crisis
By Deena Yellin
North Jersey Record
October 12, 2018
As Catholic leaders from around the globe meet in Rome this month, there is at least one notable absence: Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark is skipping the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to focus on the sexual abuse crisis back home.
Catholics and advocates for sexual abuse survivors across North Jersey are applauding his decision to forgo the monthlong conclave in order to take care of business during a tumultuous time in the church.
Mark Crawford of Woodbridge, New Jersey director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and a survivor of clergy abuse himself, said Tobin did the right thing by forgoing the event.
"With the New Jersey Attorney General conducting a statewide investigation of the Church actions regarding clergy who abused children, I think the cardinal has much to be concerned about," Crawford said. "Spending weeks in Rome chatting with high ranking church officials while a real crisis rages on here at home will not serve him well."
Pope Francis had requested Tobin's presence at the assembly, which draws church leaders from around the world to deliberate over critical issues facing Catholics. The focus of this year's synod (which comes from the Greek word for journey) is "young people, faith and vocational discernment." The event began in Rome on Oct. 2 and will conclude at the end of the month.
But a sexual abuse crisis has rocked the Catholic church in recent months, with the explosive Pennsylvania report on child abuse by priests, and the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Newark, after allegations that he sexually abused minors and adult seminarians. In addition, several New Jersey priests are being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct. And a New Jersey hotline established to report abuse by priests has been inundated with calls.
In a letter to the faithful, Tobin stated that while he was honored to have been named as a member of the special gathering, it was not the right time to depart from his responsibilities for a month.
"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."
The pope "understands why I need to stay close to home and he released me from the obligation to attend the Synod," said Tobin in a written statement.
"I am keenly aware that words alone are not enough," said Tobin. "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."
Michael Fitzsimmons of Westwood, whose own pastor, the Rev. Jim Weiner, is being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct, said, "Cardinal Tobin was correct in realizing he needed to be present as a shepherd and listener to the many in the pews who are suffering through this crisis of confidence."
Ed Hanratty, an abuse survivor from West Milford, agreed. "Regardless of who Cardinal Tobin answers to professionally, his first moral obligation is repairing the damage done by the Archdiocese of Newark over the decades. Nothing is going to rectify itself overnight, but it's encouraging to see the cardinal making this a priority."
Not everyone was convinced that Tobin was motivated by good intentions.
"He claims that the archdiocese is suffering greatly," said Robert Hoatson a West Orange survivor of clergy abuse and the president of Road to Recovery, which advocates for abuse victims. "He never elicits why the archdiocese is suffering greatly, the causes, the issues, who caused the issues and what his plan is for resolving it all."