Hebda May Exit

The Record
June 16, 2015

ON MONDAY, shock waves in Minnesota were felt in Newark. Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned as head of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese amid a clergy sex scandal, and Newark Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda was named apostolic administrator, a temporary replacement. How temporary is unknown.

Hebda has been seen as the heir apparent to Newark Archbishop John Myers, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 next year. Myers has been touched by scandal as well. His handling of the Rev. Michael Fugee has been heavily criticized not just by critics of the Catholic Church, but by Bergen County prosecutors, who had allowed Fugee to avoid criminal prosecution by entering into an agreement to have no contact with minors. The archdiocese did not properly monitor Fugee, and he violated that agreement. Fugee is no longer a priest.

Additionally, Myers has refused to give up plans to move into his more-than-7,000-square-foot, newly expanded retirement mansion, flouting Pope Francis' call for bishops to live modestly. Monday's announcement raises more questions than provides answers for New Jersey Catholics.

The situation in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is dire. Prosecutors have taken the unprecedented step of criminally charging the archdiocese for allowing a predator priest to prey on children. Not only Nienstedt, but one of his auxiliary bishops, Lee Anthony Piche, resigned Monday. Piche was the bishop responsible for investigating how the archdiocese handled cases of sexual abuse.

These joint resignations, as well as the Vatican's announcement that it is putting its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on trial in a Vatican court for allegedly sexually abusing boys, is more proof that this pope has begun cleaning the church's stairs from the top down. Taken in conjunction with the recent announcement of a Vatican tribunal to review how bishops handle allegations of sexual abuse by priests, it is clear the pope wants to move the church past more than a decade of sex scandals that have robbed it of its moral authority and are draining its financial resources in payouts to victims.

It is unclear whether Hebda will be able to deal with the sizable crisis in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese and remain connected to Newark. The Monday announcement provided no clue as to the Vatican's long-term plans. Hebda, a civil and canon lawyer, is well-suited to his new task. But he disappointed many in Newark when he defended Myers' decision not to sell his retirement mansion. There has been hope that once Myers retired, Hebda would do more to address the needs of parishioners particularly victims of sexual abuse by priests and offer a more humble image as the spiritual leader of the Newark Archdiocese than has Myers.

The Vatican is keeping its options open. That may be good for the people of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese, but it leaves Catholics here wondering what happens next. Will Myers fill out his term? Will he be compelled to sell his lavish mansion? Or has he been given a pass by the Vatican?

Pope Francis is holding bishops across the globe accountable for their actions. He cannot ignore Newark's.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.