Initial takeaway: Archbishop Hebda reflects on listening sessions

| November 17, 2015 | 30 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, spoke with The Catholic Spirit Nov. 10, less than a week after the final listening session, to share his initial impression ahead of a forthcoming comprehensive analysis. The following has been edited for length and clarity.


Q. What was your goal for the listening sessions?

A. The first goal was getting more information. It helped me get a better sense of the archdiocese and provided that information for the process of choosing the next archbishop. The second was to have the opportunity for people to come together in a very positive way and to begin thinking about the future.

Q. Do you think you achieved it?

A. The number of people who came and the information that was given was very helpful. I do think that we had some good, thought-provoking opportunities for people to begin to consider the future and what it is that we hope will happen, what we want to be part of when the next archbishop is named and when our local Church is in a better position to move forward, maybe post-bankruptcy.

Q. What is your main takeaway?

A. My main takeaway is the high level of commitment that people have to this local Church and how easily they speak of their love for the Church, especially as they talked about their parishes and their priests. I came to get a glimpse of a diocese that is very much alive and certainly thrives at the local level.

Q. What surprised you?

A. Certainly the intensity. People feel passionately about the liturgy and diversity in liturgy. I was a little surprised by how articulate people were in expressing their thoughts about the Church. They really demonstrated for me that we have a very well-educated laity. Things were described not in just personal likes and dislikes, but in terms of theology and ecclesiology. That impressed me very much.

Q. What challenged you?

A. The question of how do we reach out to people who have left the Church or feel marginalized is a challenge that we’re feeling not just all over the country, but all over the world. That’s where Pope Francis is really challenging us as well — to make sure we’re reaching out to those on the peripheries.

At many of the sessions they spoke concretely about people who are divorced and remarried, people who are experiencing same-sex attraction and feel like the Church doesn’t want them or care for them, people who have been hurt in the midst of the pedophilia scandals. There’s a real sense that we have to be proactive in reaching out to people and giving them the same sense of belonging that Pope Francis does.

Q. How do you plan to use the information you received?

A. We’re forwarding the summaries to the nuncio, and Msgr. [Michael] Morgan is going to share the information he received. I also know that it’s going to be hugely helpful for the next archbishop. It’s a pretty fresh indication of what people are thinking in the archdiocese, what they see as being priorities. It’s something that usually takes a long time to gather, especially when a new archbishop comes and there’s so much excitement and so many things to do. This will be of great assistance to him right off the bat.

Q. What convinces you that all this work will matter?

A. I’m really confident that it will be used, first of all because of the [nuncio’s] extraordinary effort in sending Msgr. Morgan to be part of this. It gives us great indication that the nuncio is open to receiving information like this. Secondly, I think the quality of what was gathered seems to ring true to what I’ve experienced in the life of this local Church. Because there was such cohesion, I think we have fairly reliable information that will be readily credible. That makes it more likely to be usable and used. It did involve a fairly broad cross-section of archdiocesan life.

Obviously, we had people of all walks of life at the public listening sessions. I think we also got an interesting perspective from those in consecrated life and Hispanic leadership. They helped complete the picture. I’ve just been getting very good input as well from all of the deanery sessions where priests and deacons had a chance to really discuss [the same questions].

Q. You heard a lot of opinions, including many opposing views. How do you expect the nuncio to sift through that?

A. You hope that the information that you heard most often and seemed to resonate across the broadest cross-section is a good place to start. That doesn’t deny that you might get a prophetic voice, but when you look at the areas that were most commonly mentioned, they would give the next archbishop a blueprint for beginning to respond. I also think that sometimes, even when people had very different opinions, they were very much addressing the same issues. So, when people spoke about having priests who are prepared to address the problems of the day, even though people may have a different sense of what those problems are and what being prepared means, there was a real common emphasis on the importance of our two archdiocesan seminaries.

Q. What do you make of the comments that questioned or challenged Church teaching?

A. We certainly tried to help people to understand that our task was somewhat narrow, in terms of being helpful in that process of the selection of the next archbishop, but we did get a sense that some people really struggle with some Church teachings.

So often we can fall into misunderstandings, mischaracterizations of Church teaching, but on the other hand, we may fail to see the impact of Church teaching in somebody’s life, or how they might be hearing what the Church is saying. The listening sessions were very helpful in giving the next archbishop some idea of the vocabulary that he’s going to need to be able to address some of these issues.

Q. How do you think the listening sessions are shaping people’s expectations?

A. There’s a great tradition here of people speaking their minds and offering their opinions, and it seems to me that there’s an expectation that any good pastor, any good bishop or archbishop would want to know what the Lord is doing in the hearts of his faithful. There’s an expectation that that process of listening will continue. As people look to Pope Francis, who is engaged on so many levels in consultation, they rightly see that’s part of Catholic life in 2015. Whether that be Pope Francis pulling together very quickly a ‘kitchen cabinet’ of eight cardinals and meeting with them, or whether it be in the two synods that he’s led in the short time that he’s been successor of Peter, all of those are opportunities for people to express those things that are most important in their hearts.

Q.Where do we go from here? How do we apply this information to helping the archdiocese heal and move forward?

A. A lot of it will take place once the new archbishop is named. The new information will be helpful in that selection process, but we really should leave it to the next archbishop to give us our marching orders on the information that was received. Of course, he would be in dialogue with the leadership throughout the archdiocese, but that will be the moment when we really see the utility of the information that was provided.


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Category: Welcome Archbishop Hebda