Archbishop Hebda's Media Blitz

By Jennifer Haselberger
Canonical Consultation
July 11, 2015

Since yesterday afternoon, when various media outlets began to publish the first person-to-person interviews with Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the new Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, several people have contacted me to express their disappointment in what was said- and wasn't said- by the Archbishop. Faithful and clergy who were anxious for transparency and a clear break from previous media-spin were obviously disappointed, as well as others who were looking for an indication of more concrete policy changes.

For my part, I wasn't at all surprised. It is unlikely that the message will change as long as those who are crafting the messages remain the same. At the same time, I was disappointed with some statements that appeared to be a little too carefully crafted to be representative of the type of 'transparency' that many of the faithful feel entitled to.

Take, for instance, this exchange between the Archbishop and MPR news:

BARAN: Has the archdiocese turned over everything to police and prosecutors that they've asked for?

HEBDA: In the time that I've been here, nothing's been asked for. We haven't had that situation. My understanding is we're, everything that, we've been working very closely with the authorities. And also obviously there's always a judge or a court that's able to decide those things as well.

BARAN: Would you say to the lawyers and the other people who work in the chancery: Look, if the police or the prosecutors ask you for any information, please turn it over?

HEBDA: I think obviously we have to be cooperative. We also have to recognize that there are some documents that are privileged. And that's very fair I think from both sides, and so certainly being cognizant of the parameters of the law, that we want to be able to cooperate fully. 

As far as I am aware, Archbishop Hedba was not dishonest anything that he said in this exchange. However, it also did not provide the faithful or other individuals following this drama with the information they would feel entitled to. A more transparent response, in my opinion, would have been to acknowledge that prior to his appointment a warrant was executed at the Chancery, and that in the course of that execution documents were recovered relating to the Greene Espel investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt (though not, I believe, 'the report', if such a report even exists). And, while the warrant was executed prior to his appointment, it was after his appointment that the Archdiocese appeared before the court to assert that the document(s) were privileged and therefore should not be provided to prosecutors. 

So, the Archdiocese (under Hebda's direction) clearly intends to assert privilege claims going forward. What I would have liked to hear from the Archbishop is his reasons for asserting those claims, especially in relation to the criminal and civil charges now facing the Archdiocese. I am open to the possibility that there might be reasons for asserting these claims that trump the usefulness of learning how the Archbishop's conduct might have impacted his decision-making. However, given that the underlying concern is the protection of children and other vulnerable individuals, I am not willing to simply accept his contention that asserting the privilege is 'very fair...from both sides'. Clearly the County Attorney felt that there were compelling reasons for the document(s) to be produced and at this moment I- and I think many of you- have a lot more faith in the County Attorney than the Archdiocese when it comes to child protection. So, if Archbishop Hebda would like me to believe that asserting privilege is necessary, I would like an explanation as to why.

I would also like to have heard from him on at least three other troubling issues that cast doubt on his statements to the Pioneer Press that the Archdiocese is "healthy", headed in the right direction and that strides have been made in the areas of child protection. Specifically, I would like to how such statements are to be reconciled 1). in light of this week's disclosure by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate of the names of several credibly accused priests who served in this Archdiocese but who have not been named in the Archdiocese's public lists established in 2013 and subsequently updated, 2). in light of Father Mark Huberty's request for $46,000 in reimbursement for legal costs, and 3). in light of the recent decision to restore Father Jonathan Shelley to priestly ministry. In regard to the latter, I think the faithful deserve a full explanation of how that decision was reached, the process that was used, and the individuals who were consulted.


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