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Archbishop Joseph Tobin

New Indianapolis archbishop is supporter of US nuns

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday transferred to the United States a high-ranking Holy See official who had ruffled feathers at the Vatican by openly seeking to mend its frayed ties with U.S. nuns.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, an American Redemptorist priest, was named archbishop of Indianapolis, where he succeeds Archbishop Daniel Buechlein who retired last year.

Pope Benedict XVI had tapped Tobin, a two-time superior general of the Redemptorist religious order, to be the No. 2 official in the Vatican's office for religious orders in 2010. At the time, the Vatican had initiated two separate investigations of U.S. nuns, looking into both their quality of life and their doctrinal orthodoxy. The investigations were initiated following years of complaints from theological conservatives that American nuns had grown too secular, liberal and political while abandoning traditional doctrine.

In Catholic press interviews soon after his appointment, Tobin, 60, had acknowledged the hurt many nuns felt over the Vatican's crackdown and called for a strategy of reconciliation. "We have to try to heal what can be healed," he told National Catholic Reporter in December 2010, referring to the apostolic "visitation" that his office launched in 2008 to investigate all U.S. women's religious orders.

The aim of the investigation was to look into the sisters' quality of life, response to dissent and the soundness of their doctrine. The investigation was completed last year but the results haven't been made public.

In April of this year, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the findings of its separate investigation into the largest umbrella group of nuns in the United States, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Vatican ordered a full-scale overhaul of the group, accusing it of taking positions that undermine Catholic teaching while promoting "radical feminist themes" that are incompatible with the faith.

The reaction of U.S. sisters and their supporters to the Vatican's crackdown has been intense, with priests and ordinary Catholics alike vocally supporting the sisters who run schools, hospitals, shelters and other vital social services that cater to the poor.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and contributing editor at America magazine who has been vocally supportive of U.S. nuns in the wake of the Vatican crackdown, said Tobin was a "great friend to American sisters."

"When he took over in the wake of the Vatican's investigation of women's religious orders, he spoke of the need to listen to the "anger and hurt" that so many sisters had felt. I hope that his successor will also be open to listening to the experience the sisters."

It's not the first time the Vatican has removed a high-ranking official who annoyed the Vatican bureaucracy.

The No. 2 official in the Vatican administration was named to the arguably important position of U.S. ambassador last year after he stepped on too many toes in exposing corruption and inefficiencies in the Vatican's day-to-day administration. Letters in which Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano begged the pope not to be transferred were leaked earlier this year to an Italian journalist, one of the bombshells of the Vatican's leaks scandal.

Tobin, a native of Detroit, was ordained in 1978. Before being named to the No. 2 position in the Vatican's office for religious orders, he was a member of the committee of international religious superiors who meet regularly with the officials from the Vatican to discuss issues of concern to religious congregations.

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Indiana turnover

Four of Indiana's five Roman Catholic dioceses have seen leadership changes in the past three years after no turnover since the early 1990s:

  • Indianapolis Archdiocese: Archbishop Joseph Tobin named Thursday to replace Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, who stepped down in September 2011 because of health problems from position he held since 1992.
  • Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese: Bishop Kevin Rhoades installed in January 2010 to replace Bishop John D'Arcy after 24 years.
  • Lafayette Diocese: Bishop Timothy Doherty took over in July 2010, succeeding Bishop William Higi, who retired after 26 years.
  • Evansville Diocese: Bishop Charles Thompson ordained in June 2011 to replace Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger after 22 years.
  • Gary Diocese: Bishop Dale Melczek turns 74 next month and has led the diocese since 1992. The church's normal retirement age for bishops is 75.