Archbishop Hebda eager to listen, learn as he takes charge of archdiocese

| June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments
Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Newark, New Jersey, smiles Nov. 5, 2013, as he addresses the congregation at the end of his Mass of welcome at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. Pope Francis has named Bishop Hebda apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis June 15. CNS

Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Newark, New Jersey, smiles Nov. 5, 2013, as he addresses the congregation at the end of his Mass of welcome at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. Pope Francis has named Bishop Hebda apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis June 15. CNS

Archbishop Bernard Hebda is the first to admit he has a lot to learn about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Asked what he thinks the archdiocese needs right now, he replied, “I’m not sure yet. I don’t know the situation that well,” noting that he wants to support priests and lay leaders. “I hope to help the faithful of the Twin Cities to get back to the point of being the joyful missionary disciples that Pope Francis has asked us to be.”

Pope Francis named Archbishop Hebda the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator June 15 in the wake of the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, who had served as its leader since 2008. Bishop Lee Piché, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, also resigned June 15. Both cited the need to step down in order for healing to begin in the archdiocese, where some leaders are facing accusations of mishandling cases of child sex abuse by clergy.

With the abrupt change in leadership, Archbishop Hebda, 55, is assuming responsibility for an archdiocese in Reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and facing criminal and civil charges alleging it failed to protect children.

Despite the challenges, Archbishop Hebda doesn’t see himself as primarily a crisis manager or legal advisor — although he has a background in civil and canon law — but as a pastor. He hopes Catholics in the archdiocese can keep the perspective of faith in the changeover.

“It’s important to remember that the Church belongs to Christ, and he certainly works through his shepherds, even though all of us have weaknesses and strengths,” he said. “The Lord is going to be with the people of the archdiocese as they go through this transition, and as they prepare for their next archbishop. It’s out of his compassion for his flock that he’s going to make sure he can find those leaders who can provide the care they need.”

He added: “I know that Catholic leaders have already been doing wonderful things to help the Church emerge from this difficult time.”

As apostolic administrator, Archbishop Hebda has governing authority over the archdiocese until Pope Francis names a new leader, a process that could take months. The Pittsburgh native and Harvard and Columbia alumnus retains his responsibilities in Newark, where he is positioned to succeed Archbishop John Meyers, 73, upon his retirement.

Speaking with The Catholic Spirit on the evening of his appointment, he was uncertain how his time would be divided between New Jersey and Minnesota, but expected to devote most his efforts to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“The archdiocese has been suffering something difficult and shocking, and it would make sense to give [it] the bulk of time and energy at this point,” he said. “There are still a few things I would need to clear in Newark, but I’m hoping to be really present in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to be able to work with the leaders.”

Prior to June 16, when he visited St. Paul to meet with archdiocesan leadership, his experience in Minnesota was limited to the airport and a visit to the Mall of America in Bloomington, he said, but he has friends in the area who have provided a local perspective.

Many logistical aspects of his leadership, such as where he might live in the Twin Cities given that the archbishop’s residence is listed for sale, have yet to be determined, he said. However, he said he hopes to be a visible presence in the archdiocese and come to understand its needs from speaking in person with priests and lay people, his preferred way of learning.

“I do much better [communicating] one-on-one, face-to-face, heart-to-heart,” he said. When 19 months ago he was named coadjutor archbishop of Newark after serving four years as bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, he didn’t know anything about that archdiocese either, he said, but has made an effort to visit parishes and listen to priests and lay leaders.

“The experience I bring is of being a bishop who has concretely experienced the Lord working in the Church,” he said. “That includes seeing the gifts people bring, their ability to bounce back from challenges and their response to what the Lord is asking them to do.”

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