Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archbishop Bernard Hebda Has Embraced Minnesota – and His Flock

– Brian Peterson, Star Tribune
By Jean Hopfensperger

NOTE: The following is excerpted from Jean Hopfensperger's October 11, 2017 Star Tribune article/interview. To read By Hopfensperger interview with Archbishop Hebda in its entirety, click here.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda did not see it coming. The day the Vatican announced he would become the Twin Cities’ new archbishop, he stood before a hastily prepared news conference inside the Cathedral of St. Paul and quipped that if he’d been warned, “I would have brought a better suit and made sure I had a haircut.”

His sartorial selection was the least of his worries on that day last year. The gregarious Hebda, sent to Minnesota months earlier for what was to be a temporary assignment, was suddenly in charge of an archdiocese reeling from a priest sex abuse scandal, bankruptcy, criminal charges filed by Ramsey County, and distrust in the pews. The previous archbishop, John Nienstedt, had resigned under controversy.

More than a year later, the ship has reached calmer waters. The Pittsburgh-born prelate has gained a reputation for spiritual and intellectual depth, thanks in part to degrees from Harvard University and Columbia Law School as well as working 13 years at the Vatican. Although he was being groomed to be archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, when he landed here, Hebda is now planted firmly in his 800,000-member Twin Cities archdiocese. He has embraced Minnesota living, including the Minnesota State Fair, Basilica Block Party, Red Bull Crashed Ice race and countless parish festivals. This interview has been condensed from a longer discussion with the archbishop.

[. . .] Have you met Pope Francis?

I’ve only met him a handful of times. I had the chance to meet him when he came to the United States [in 2015]. I had introduced myself as the coadjutor in Newark and as the [temporary] administrator in St. Paul and Minneapolis. He said, “I know. I did that to you!” That was a great laugh. I think it’s amazing with all his responsibilities, he has a sense of what’s going on.

And when I was sent to Newark, I just happened to be in Rome with a pilgrimage group [and met him]. I said “Do you have any advice?” He said “Talk talk talk. Listen listen listen.” It was great advice in Newark and great advice here as well. When we were doing those listening sessions, that’s what I had in mind.

You landed here as the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese was making national headlines for a sex abuse scandal. What were the toughest decisions you made?

Some of those major decisions were when we were entering into the settlement agreement with Ramsey County. (The county had filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failure to protect children — a first in the nation.) Trying to discern what was the right path. I think part of it was being willing to recognize that we had hurt people in the past and being willing to say that, which I think made some people nervous. Certainly some lawyers. But at the same time it seemed the right thing to do. And as we were in discussions with the Ramsey County attorney’s office, that was important for them that we would do that.

When lawyers revealed that more than 400 clergy sex abuse claims had been filed over the three years ending in May 2016, you looked a bit shell shocked. How did that affect your faith?

It didn’t really shake it at all. It did give me a strong conviction that the task here is not only to prevent abuse but also to sustain our priests in a way that they’re able to lead healthy lives.

Have you met any survivors of clergy sex abuse? What did you learn from them?

The first thing I’ve learned is that no two survivors are the same, that you can’t lump people into one category. Especially with those that I’ve been working with recently, it’s learning from them how the past abuse continues to have an impact on their lives — whether it be in their marriages, whether it be in their relationship to God. And then in a positive way, to know there are many [survivors] who are really committed to helping the church not only do better but also to reach out to others in a way that’s helpful.

So there’s a group of survivors you meet with regularly?

There’s a little group, and I’ve met with them. Other people on my staff meet with them more frequently. Some of it is just individuals, as well, who just want to come talk to the bishop. Often they have suggestions for what we need to do moving forward in a positive way.

What is the best and hardest part about being an archbishop?

The difficult part is when you’re asked to lead a church that you don’t really know that well. It obviously takes time to get to know not only the people but also the history, and what’s distinct about it. And to see how the limited gifts God has given me were intended to help the church. I had the experience when I was sent to Gaylord, a rural diocese, and then when I was sent to Newark, a very urban diocese. In each of those cases you’re kind of plucked out of your comfort zone and then asked to lead.

The good part is you have the opportunity to see how it is that the Lord uses your gifts, how the Lord guides his church even in difficult times. One of the things that I’ve seen is that in spite of the great needs that we have, we also have people who are really very well prepared to begin to address them.

[. . .] The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015. What are your priorities for an archdiocese on more stable financial footing?

During the listening sessions [held last year with area Catholics] we heard about the need for transparency and we’ve already been trying to address those things. People were concerned that we need to do more evangelization. So the question of Catholic schools is pressing. One idea we’ve talked about here is a diocesan synod. It would be a way to get broader input on our priorities. It’s a huge undertaking. That would be one of the first things we want to do, and would set the stage moving forward.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Just that I’m really happy to be here. Granted this isn’t all about my happiness. But I really felt very welcomed here, even by those people that disagree with some of the things that the church might teach. Even in some of those difficult conversations with survivors of abuse, I always get the sense that people are interested in really entering into dialogue. For me, that’s great.

See also the previous posts:
A Message from Archbishop Hebda Regarding President Trump's Executive Order on Immigration Ban
Bernard Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese
Twin Cities Catholics Get Rare Chance to Make Archbishop Recommendations to Vatican
CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda


  1. Let's hope that Hebda has a clue about true Dialogue and not just conversation or Preaching.

  2. Let’s pray he is orthodox and sticks to teaching truth!