With new leader, Bishop Cozzens looks at role with fresh perspective

| May 16, 2016 | 0 Comments
Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens visit with Dorwatha Woods, principal of Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis during a tour April 22. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens visit with Dorwatha Woods, principal of Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis during a tour April 22. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Not even three years into his episcopacy, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens has experienced significant changes — most notably, the archdiocese entering Chapter 11 Reorganization and the June 2015 resignations of two of its top leaders that left him the sole bishop for 11 months. But now that Pope Francis has named Archbishop Bernard Hebda to lead the archdiocese, The Catholic Spirit asked Bishop Cozzens what this welcomed change means for him and what Catholics might expect going forward. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q. What’s been your impression of working with Archbishop Hebda?

A. It’s been a great gift to work with Archbishop Hebda. Archbishop Hebda is a truly humble man, he’s a great listener, he has a very generous heart — and so he’s extremely generous with his time — and he’s always focused on persons and wants to be with people and also legitimately help people.

I’ve also found him to be a very wise decision-maker. And so having worked with him in the past months in some very important decisions we’ve had to make — for example, in Ramsey County, the civil agreement — I’ve seen that he has a really great grasp of many facts because he’s such a good listener, and he makes very wise and measured decisions. So, I look forward to working with him, especially now that he has a new perspective in the archdiocese because he now is looking at serving us long term.

Q. You’ve been the only bishop since the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché. How does this appointment change your role and priorities?

A. I look forward, if it’s possible, to one day returning to normal life. [Laughs.] I don’t know if that’s possible. I don’t know what normal life looks like as a bishop. The large change will be that now we’re going from a period of transition and interim leadership to having a stable leader. And so, that also changes my job. My job has been to help Archbishop Hebda keep things running and to make things happen as necessary in order to keep them running. Now, we’re both looking at things with a new perspective, so my job will change in the sense of I’m going to be trying to help him learn what he needs to learn about the archdiocese so that we can plot a path going forward.

Q. Where will your focus be now?

A. My main focus is going to be helping Archbishop Hebda learn all that he needs to learn in order to set a course for the future. I still oversee several divisions, and I anticipate that will continue, so I’ll continue to focus on evangelization and education, Latino ministries and family ministry. But we have a new opportunity with a new leader to evaluate all those things, so I want to help him in that evaluation and serve what will be his vision going forward.

Q. What should Catholics expect during this transition?

A. They should expect that it will take time. [Laughs.] So, it’s both a time of new enthusiasm for us as Catholics in the local Church because we’re more ourselves when we have a chief shepherd, and it’s also a time for patience because it takes time to evaluate and set a direction and move forward. So, Catholics should expect that it’s going to take time for Archbishop Hebda to get a sense of all the needs and the best way to move forward.

Q. You were named auxiliary bishop in December 2013 and have taken on responsibilities beyond what is typically expected of an auxiliary bishop. How would you describe your time as bishop so far?

A. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. There have been lots of ups and downs, lots of
important moments, some difficult moments, but many blessings overall. One of the largest blessings has just been getting to know the archdiocese in a new way. I was a priest of the archdiocese, so obviously I knew the archdiocese, but now I know it in a new way because I’ve been able to visit so many parishes and so many
schools and meet so many of our people and see their incredible service and their love for Jesus Christ. So that’s been very inspiring. It’s been demanding in terms of leadership skills, because I’ve just, in different ways, had to exercise leadership skills that I continue to need to grow in. I’ve been very grateful, though, for the leadership team that’s here and how they’ve helped myself and Archbishop Hebda walk through this difficult time. Most of the leadership team is new as well, since about the time I began. But it’s really a great team, and it’s a great group of people to work with.

Q. Can we expect another auxiliary bishop to be named to the archdiocese?

A. I think both Archbishop Hebda and I hope that we will get another auxiliary bishop, and we’ll be asking for that. I’m not sure if we could say that’s an expectation, but we have firm hope that we could get another auxiliary bishop.

Q. Now that we’ll have an archbishop and auxiliary bishop, what does that mean for the future of the archdiocese? What traction can we get now? What’s possible that wasn’t before?

A. It’s still going to take a little time to get traction — that’s a good phrase — but when you have an ordinary bishop, real decisions can be made. You can’t make certain decisions without an archbishop. Although, we did make a lot of important decisions in this time. Now, real decisions about which way we’re going to go can be made. As Archbishop Hebda has said, ‘We build on a foundation that’s not our own, and we hope to leave a foundation for others who will build after us.’ This is always what the Church is about. But real building can happen when you have an archbishop, so I think you can begin to get traction again in some very important areas in the archdiocese, from evangelization to outreach to building stronger parishes. All those areas we can begin to look at.

Q. What does the presbyterate think of Archbishop Hebda? How will his leadership affect our priests?

A. From what I can tell, Archbishop Hebda has been very well received by our priests. I judge that by the standing ovation he received in November when we had all the priests together, and one of our priests got up and publicly thanked him for his generosity and all that he’s given to us even though he was still the coadjutor archbishop of Newark. And there really was a spontaneous gratitude expressed by the priests. I think those priests who’ve gotten to know and work with him experienced what I experienced, which is, he’s a good listener, and he really puts people first. And so in my experience, he’s been very warmly received by the presbyterate and can help to strengthen and bring us together as we move forward.

Q. What gives you hope for the future of the archdiocese?

A. There are many things that give me hope for the future of the archdiocese. Mainly, all the great people of the archdiocese that I know who live their faith so generously, so many great movements of faith in our archdiocese for young and old, great educational institutions and great leadership. I really do believe that Archbishop Hebda is a great leader. And if people don’t know that yet, they’re going to begin to see that. I would also say . . . Archbishop Hebda is a lot of fun to be around. He’s got a great sense of humor. And so, that’s enjoyable, and it’s a gift to have around the office.

Q. Is there anything you want to add?

A. If I had to analyze an image for the last couple of years, the image I might use is the healing of a wound. There’s no doubt that clergy sexual abuse has been a huge wound in the Church. And the first thing you do when you heal a wound is you clean out the puss. And then you begin to apply salve to that wound, and gradually it heals. I think we’ve learned some things in the past few years that hopefully will change us forever so that we don’t allow the re-wounding to happen. We have learned and continue to learn some very important lessons, which will continue to be with us.

But I feel like the stage we’re at now is the stage of healing the wound. And perhaps Archbishop Hebda is some of that balm for us as a Church. And maybe that’s why Pope Francis saw fit to make this change for him, which was certainly a dramatic change, because he knows we’ve been wounded here in the archdiocese and we needed that healing balm.

Of course, it is Jesus Christ who is the great healing balm for every wound, and both Archbishop Hebda and I can only serve this healing balm, and we don’t serve it alone; we do it with many priests, religious and faithful laity who every day show forth the merciful love of God. If we do this and do it authentically, we can heal not only our Church, but also the world.

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