Pope names auxiliary bishop for St. Paul and Minneapolis

Rev. Andrew Cozzens
The Rev. Andrew Cozzens was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Oct. 11, 2013, by Pope Francis.
Courtesy Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Pope Francis has named a new auxiliary bishop to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The Rev. Andrew Cozzens, assistant professor of sacramental theology at The St. Paul Seminary, will be ordained Dec. 9 by Archbishop John Nienstedt at the Saint Paul Cathedral.

"I am honored by our Holy Father's appointment," Cozzens, 45, said in a statement released by the archdiocese.

Cozzens was not available for interviews, archdiocesan spokesman Jim Accurso said. But Cozzens told The Catholic Spirit an archdiocesan publication, that "he wants to promote the Church's healing mission."

In a radio interview with "The Rediscover: Hour," a program hosted by the archdiocese, Cozzens said that he wants to embody the healing heart of Jesus Christ.

"I'm just so taken by Pope Francis' understanding that the church has to be a healing presence in the world, and that Jesus came to heal the world," Cozzens said. "To invite people to help experience that healing power, that's what I really want to do as a bishop."

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The announcement appears unconnected to accusations that Archbishop John Nienstedt mishandled cases of sexual misconduct by two priests, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle a priest and canon lawyer who worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"This had to have been in the works for months," he told MPR News.

An MPR news investigation published last month found that archdiocesan officials ignored alarms concerning the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, and kept secret his attraction to boys. Wehmeyer later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two brothers, ages 12 and 14, and possessing child pornography.

Last week and Monday MPR News published details of an investigation that revealed that two archbishops and at least two vicars general sat on Shelley's pornography collection for about eight years and never informed the police nor followed Vatican procedures, as required by civil and canon law. Memos among archdiocesan officials describe that pornography collection as containing images of boys. Police reopened that case on Tuesday.

"It strikes me as most unlikely that this crisis breaks out and they would name an auxiliary bishop that quickly," added Lawrence Cunningham, an emeritus professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

The archbishop has declined all MPR News interview requests since publication of the first investigation on Sept. 23.

Large dioceses require auxiliary bishops to assist the head bishop perform duties he can't complete by himself, Cunningham said.

"The archdiocese is so large and complicated that the bishop needs someone to help," Cunningham said. Cozzens, who speaks Spanish and Italian, might be called on to confirm Catholics, he said.

Cozzens told The Catholic Spirit that he learned of his appointment from the pope's ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano on Oct. 1.

"He just said very simply, 'Pope Francis has nominated you to be an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Do you accept?'" Cozzens recalled. "I knew the Lord was calling, so I said, 'I accept.'"

Cozzens is a member of The Companions of Christ, a fraternity of priests and seminarians in the Twin Cities who live together as households. Another chapter exists in Denver.

The group emphasizes communal living by priests as a way to cultivate friendship, said Marcus Milless, 26, of Coon Rapids, a member who has lived at the Companions residence in St. Paul for the last year.

"I'm from a big family, and the brotherhood I experienced growing up at home has continued here," said Milless, a deacon who will be ordained as a priest in May. "This is a fellowship that I can turn to in times of need and share the joys and struggles that come up in priestly life."

Milless said that Christ also had intimate companions that he could turn to. The Gospel mentions Peter, Andrew, James and John most prominently.

"If he needed them, then we do, too," Milless said.

MPR News reporters Madeleine Baran and Meg Martin contributed to this report.