Fall listening session series aims to shape archdiocese’s future

| September 20, 2015 | 13 Comments
Archbishop Bernard Hebda is spending his first full week in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis following his appointment as its apostolic administrator in June. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda is spending his first full week in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis following his appointment as its apostolic administrator in June. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda is asking for Catholics’ input on the strengths and challenges of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the qualities hoped for in its next archbishop, through a series of listening sessions to be held in October and November.

The sessions are “taking a page from Pope Francis’ playbook,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity for our local Church to be able to offer some input to Pope Francis and those with whom he’ll be collaborating in making a decision about the next archbishop,” he said. “I think it’s important that we see how consultative Pope Francis has been from the beginning of his pontificate. Consider, for example, his use of a committee of cardinals to advise him and the emphasis that he has placed on the Synod process. We’re hoping that we might be able to assist him — in all humility — along those lines by giving him some information from those who know the archdiocese best.”

Archbishop Hebda, the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator since the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt in June, acknowledged that the effort to obtain widespread feedback ahead of a new archbishop may be somewhat unusual, but suggested it could be something other dioceses adopt if it proves helpful.

Seeking wide reach

The sessions will be hosted at parishes and Catholic institutions in several areas of the archdiocese in hopes that every Catholic who wishes to participate can. The locations were chosen for geographic diversity, their ability to accommodate large groups and as “parishes where different kinds of people would feel comfortable,” Archbishop Hebda said.

“Some of the sessions will be in non-parish settings, so even those who feel some distance from the Church might feel comfortable in sharing their views with us,” he said.

The public sessions begin Oct. 5 from 1-3 p.m. at St. Catherine’s University and 7-9 p.m. at St. Stephen, Anoka. The following sessions will be held from 7-9 p.m.: Oct. 6 at Pax Christi, Eden Prairie; Nov. 2 at St. Peter, Forest Lake; Nov. 3 at Divine Mercy, Faribault; and Nov. 4 at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

A session 1-3 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul will be held for consecrated men and women. The series will also include special sessions for priests and Spanish-speaking Catholics.

Archbishop Hebda, who is also coadjutor archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, said he hopes Catholic leaders will participate in the two-hour listening sessions. The series will also include special sessions for priests and Spanish-speaking Catholics. The consultation may also include an online questionnaire to accommodate those who are unable to attend a session.

First session feedback

The first listening session was held Sept. 17 with chancery corporation staff members, who were asked to work in small groups to brainstorm the greatest strength of the archdiocese, its greatest challenge and the attributes or experience they would hope to find in its next leader.

Geographical and ethnic diversity, influential Catholic organizations and institutions, and dedicated pastors were among the strengths the staff members shared. As for challenges, the list topper was nearly unanimous: trust.

The last several years have been difficult for the archdiocese and local Catholics. The archdiocese has been facing a slew of child sexual abuse allegations against members of clergy; filed for Chapter 11 Reorganization in January; was criminally and civilly charged in June for allegations of failing to protect children; and experienced the resignations of its archbishop and an auxiliary bishop.

Listening sessions

  • Oct. 5 – St. Catherine’s University, 1-3 p.m.; St. Stephen, Anoka, 7-9 p.m.
  • Oct. 6 – Carondelet Center, St. Paul, 1-3 p.m. (for men and women in consecrated life only);
    Pax Christi, Eden Prairie, 7-9 p.m.
  • Nov. 2 – St. Peter, Forest Lake, 7-9 p.m.
  • Nov. 3 – Divine Mercy, Faribault, 7-9 p.m.
  • Nov. 4 – University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, 7-9 p.m.

No small task

Archbishop Hebda said it would be a large task to collate the information received and summarize common themes.

“Our hope would be to share our findings with the Holy Father through the nuncio in a concise way, but then also to have that information available for the next archbishop,” he said. “We’re also hoping that it’s going to give us the opportunity to share with the faithful of the archdiocese in the months to come.”

In addition to information-gathering opportunities, the listening sessions are “a reminder for people to be praying for this whole process — that the Holy Spirit will help Pope Francis to send just the right shepherd for this local Church,” Archbishop Hebda said. “I’m also hoping that it gives us an opportunity, as well, to celebrate the great history of collaboration that distinguishes this local Church and a long tradition of expressing those things that are most important to us within the context of our Church family.”

Pope Francis appoints a bishop to a diocese typically after the position is vacated by death, retirement or — in rare cases — resignation, but may also appoint a coadjutor archbishop when the present bishop is expected soon to retire, as he did in the case of Archbishop John Myers of Newark, whose role Archbishop Hebda is expected to assume next summer.

It is not known when Pope Francis would appoint a new archbishop to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. When a decision is made, few people know before the Vatican officially announces it.

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