Archbishop Bernard Hebda was installed as the ninth archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Friday afternoon, pledging greater attention to the poor and a more open, accountable church.
Hebda said Twin Cities Catholics have told him they want a church that is “more transparent, more accountable … and more engaged in the work of evangelization.”
“I’m all in,” he told the thousands of supporters who packed the Cathedral of St. Paul.
Hebda also repeatedly said that it’s not possessions, but “only Jesus,” that makes a difference in life. He noted that Jesus sent his apostles out to spread the gospel without provisions, not even walking sticks. He joked that would be the equivalent today of sending them off “without cellphones, Internet, legal counsel …”
Hebda’s first homily as archbishop was warmly received by those who traveled from across the metro and beyond to witness the historic installation of a new archbishop. The ceremony was steeped in ancient tradition, with processions of bishops, priests, sword-carrying Knights of Columbus, Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre in floor-length robes, and others.
Hebda walked up the cathedral steps at 2 p.m., halted at the inside front doors, and knocked. Cathedral rector John Ubel opened the door and welcomed him inside, a historic rite signifying that the archbishop was taking possession of the cathedral.
The new archbishop then strode up the aisle to the front of the cathedral carrying a gold staff and with a smile on his face. The Rev. Carlo Maria Viganò, who recently stepped down as the head of the Vatican’s embassy in Washington, D.C., read a proclamation from Pope Francis appointing Hebda as archbishop.
Hebda was sent to the Twin Cities as a temporary caretaker last June after Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned amid the clergy abuse scandal. The Vatican surprised Hebda, and archdiocese leaders, in March by appointing him the archdiocese’s permanent leader.
Hebda, 56, holds degrees in both canon law and civil law, and he spent 13 years at the Vatican as a top canon lawyer.
He will oversee an archdiocese that claims more than 800,000 Catholics in the 12-county metro area.
The archdiocese has been embroiled in controversy in recent years as claims of clergy sex abuse have poured in. Morale in the pews plummeted, and the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy last year.
The archbishop acknowledged the situation in a homily that was both sincere and laced with humor.
“The circumstances in which we find ourselves have left us humbled and exposed, and at times the object of public scorn and reproach,” he said. “The bonds of communion … have been tested and challenged as we come to grips with our past and strive to make plans for the future.”
He said that he was grateful for the faith that Pope Francis placed in him and that he had much to learn about the Twin Cities. The pope, he joked, “has given you a shepherd who has never eaten lutefisk.”
For many of the Catholics in the pews, it was a new day for their church. They looked forward to a resolution of the clergy abuse troubles and a greater focus on their faith.
“I think he [Hebda] will remove the cancer that has infiltrated us and the church will regain its health,” said James Dohogne, a retired engineer from Coon Rapids. “We have a strong foundation.”
Mary Ann Bambenek of Hastings, sitting nearby, said Hebda appeared to be both humble and “highly intelligent.”
“He makes you feel confident in him,” she said.
While Hebda has impressed many, clergy abuse victims say he’s never reached out to them. They wonder what role he’ll play, if any, in the archdiocese’s eventual bankruptcy plan to compensate victims.
Friday’s celebration hinted that this archbishop may cast his evangelization efforts with an eye, in part, to Twin Cities immigrants. During the mass, a Spanish-speaking woman read the first gospel reading and a Hmong-speaking woman read the second. The English translations were in the printed program.
Hebda is a Pittsburgh native who was ordained in 1989 at age 29. He holds a theology degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, as well as a B.A. in political science from Harvard and a law degree from Columbia.
Hebda was on track to become the next archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., before being appointed temporary administrator of the Twin Cities archdiocese.