Hebda named archbishop of Twin Cities archdiocese

Archbishop Bernard Hebda
Bernard Hebda speaks at a news conference Thursday after Pope Francis named him archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 4:16 p.m. | Posted 6:42 a.m.

Bernard Hebda will be keeping his job running the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Hebda was named the apostolic administrator of the Twin Cities archdiocese last year, in the wake of the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche. They stepped down last summer, amid a clergy sex scandal that included criminal charges against the archdiocese.

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Prosecutors said the church had failed to protect children in its parishes.

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Hebda, 56, will officially become the permanent archbishop on May 13.

"It has been a great blessing in allowing me to get to know many of you and to have had an up close experience of the vitality of this local church as well as a taste of those challenges that have molded its recent history," he told reporters, staff, priests and a few parishioners who'd gathered Thursday morning at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

He said he was "aware that there is still much work to be done" to get the archdiocese house in order as it works its way through bankruptcy court and tries to move forward from the scandals that led Nienstedt's resignation in June.

Hebda is an Ivy League educated attorney who recently served as coadjutor archbishop in the Newark archdiocese. He is a Pittsburgh native who has also served as a bishop in Michigan and has also worked in the Vatican. He had been expected succeed the Newark archbishop John Myers when he retired in July.

Hebda was initially named as only a temporary administrator in Minnesota on June 15, 2015.

Many parishioners and priests sounded relieved at the news that Hebda's time in the Twin Cities would be extended.

"I think this is great news," said the Rev. Nate Myers, pastor at St. Francis Xavier parish in Buffalo, Minn. "Really [I] was all along kind of secretly hoping this would come about, and here we had it actually come about today, so its a real blessing, I think, from our Holy Father.

Myers was on hand to congratulate Hebda in St. Paul Thursday. He is one of eight priests on the archdiocese's college of consultors, a group that advises the archbishop in the management of the archdiocese.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda takes a moment of prayer.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda takes a moment of prayer after a news conference Thursday. He will officially become the permanent archbishop on May 13.
Leila Navidi | Star Tribune via AP

Parishioners at the Cathedral Thursday were pleased, too.

"We think that he's brought a lot of healing to the archdiocese, among the priests, among the laity," said Angela Dewitt, who stopped by the Cathedral after hearing the news. "We've seen him here at the Cathedral many times since he's been appointed. He comes in and he always has a smile on his face. He always greets the children, you can see that he has a great love for the people and the people love him back."

But some church critics expressed disappointment over the choice, saying the appointment wasn't the break from the church's past they'd been hoping for.

"The new Twin Cities archbishop is a slightly friendlier version of the old Twin Cities archbishop," said David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis-based group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "This is a disappointing choice for an archdiocese that deserves better and by a pope who knows better."

But even some of the church's most persistent critics were ready to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt.

"I'm more confident in our present leadership," said the Rev. Michael Tegeder, pastor at St. Frances Cabrini parish in Minneapolis. "That doesn't just include Hebda. That includes everyone over there. I think they're all working, trying to pick up the pieces after the last two terrible leadership regimes we had."

Tegeder, who said he has been threatened with removal by archdiocesan officials in the past, said he hopes Hebda's tenure better reflects the culture of the archdiocese.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson is perhaps the sharpest of the archdiocese's critics. He has sued them repeatedly and successfully. But he said a permanent administrator like Hebda gives the church the opportunity to take ownership of its troubles and fix them.

"There's no question he's smart. There's no question he's trained as a civil lawyer and a canon lawyer. And he has some experience in clerical culture," Anderson said. "Obviously, how he is going to approach this now that he is installed permanently remains to be seen."

Hebda himself said he'll remain engaged in the controversies and financial troubles of the archdiocese. He said his appointment here came as a surprise — and will force a change of perspective. He had been in line to take over the Newark archdiocese and has been spending much of his time there. He says he'd been thinking previously about how lessons in Minnesota would apply to his next job in New Jersey.

His focus in the Twin Cities these past months, he said, has been to "do no harm." After May 13, "it's going to be my responsibility to set a longer course and I look forward to being part of that," he said.

The archdiocese said an Installation Mass is scheduled for 2 p.m. May 13 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

At 56, Hebda will be eligible to serve the archdiocese for nearly two decades before he reaches the traditional retirement age for senior church leaders — at 75.

At one point Thursday, Hebda mused about the differences between dating and marriage as he talked about his new commitment.

"When May 13 comes," he said, "you're stuck with me for a long time."