Church leaders, including those in the United States, uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and an attentiveness to the voices of those on the peripheries should reexamine their skepticism, according to Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, who says such priorities are here to stay.
“The election of Pope Francis opened up the rest of the world to the rich theological foment of the church in Latin America, with its strong sense of mission, encounter, the peripheries and mercy,” said Tobin. “Many, including church leaders in this country, have found that shift to be uncomfortable.”
The New Jersey cardinal’s remarks came during a webinar on “Synodality and the Long Game of Pope Francis,” delivered May 4 for Loyola University Chicago’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage annual Cardinal Bernardin Common Cause lecture.
Francis’ priorities, said Tobin, are “not going away anytime soon.” He went on to quote Pope John XXIII’s opening address to the Second Vatican Council that “Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than of severity.”
Tobin identified Francis’ focus on synodality as the vehicle by which Francis hopes to usher in this new focus on the need for mercy and listening to a range of voices for the church, saying that it is a “model of the church that the Lord expects for us in this millennia” and one that “will require changes on how we do and are church.”
Drawing on his own experience of participating in five synods in his capacity as former superior general of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer — three under Pope John Paul II and two under Pope Benedict XVI — Tobin said that Francis is “tuning up an engine” of the Synod of Bishops, a body first initiated by Pope Paul VI.
Synodality, the cardinal observed, is an often misunderstood “buzzword of this papacy.” Tobin said that such a course must be guided by a church willing to journey together, recognizing the importance of conversion and the role that mercy plays in that process.
Tobin addressed criticisms of the synod process, such as those that have said it lacks or direction or “seeks to accompany, but not convert.”
Here the video of the webinar: