Interim Archbishop Elevated to Lead Twin Cities Archdiocese
March 24, 2016
|Archbishop Bernard Hebda speaks during a news conference at St. Paul Cathedral after being appointed as Archbishop of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Thursday, March 24, 2016 in St. Paul, Minn. ... more|
Archbishop Bernard Hebda said Thursday that he is surprised, humbled and "truly thrilled" by Pope Francis' decision to keep him on as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after serving nine months as interim leader.
Hebda had been slated to become Archbishop of Newark this summer, and was dividing his time between New Jersey and Minnesota when the Vatican informed him on Tuesday that he would be staying in St. Paul. His installation Mass is scheduled for May 13.
Hebda, 56, replaced Archbishop John Nienstedt, who resigned last June after prosecutors filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from a priest who was later sent to prison for molesting two boys. Nienstedt denied wrongdoing in that case and was not charged.
At a news conference inside the ornate Cathedral of St. Paul, Hebda said he didn't have plans for specific changes yet, and that helping the archdiocese to overcome the clerical sexual abuse crisis and a resulting bankruptcy will continue to be the focus of his work.
"It's a long process. Everybody tells me we have to be ready for a marathon rather than for a sprint, and we're experiencing that for sure," he said.
The archdiocese has been under fire since 2013, when a former church official went public with concerns about its handling of abuse cases. That same year, a state law opened a three-year window for victims of sex abuse to file lawsuits. More than 400 victims have come forward as a result, and the archdiocese has filed for bankruptcy protection. The archdiocese is now in the process of selling off assets to help pay those claims, including the chancery where Hebda lives.
But abuse victims were critical of Hebda's appointment. David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement calling him "a slightly friendlier version of Nienstedt" and predicted he "will do little or nothing to better protect kids and expose those who commit or conceal sex crimes and misconduct in Minnesota."
The Vatican made the announcement on Holy Thursday, which Hebda said was significant because it's when the Roman Catholic Church traditionally celebrates the priesthood. He said he thought the pope wanted to use the occasion to bolster the priests of the archdiocese.
Hebda said his approach to the job will shift from his interim role to "do no harm," and that after May 13, he'll be responsible for charting a long-term course for the archdiocese.
"I pray that in responding to those challenges I will be able to be a shepherd who imitates the One who came to serve rather than to be served," Hebda said.