Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda as Archbishop-designate of Saint Paul and Minneapolis; a surprise move for the archbishop, who was presumed to take over the diocese of Newark in July. He was formerly Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, a post he has held since September 2013.
“I am humbled once again by Pope Francis’ confidence in me in calling me to this local church, which has been so influential and important in the upper Midwest,” he said during a press conference held inside the Cathedral of St. Paul.
He also said he was “honored” to serve in a diocese with such a “rich history and its long tradition of extraordinary priests, zealous Religious and empowered laity, all working to put their faith into action.”
Archbishop Hebda who is set to be installed May 13 on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, had been serving as Apostolic Administrator of the archdiocese since June 2015. He succeeds Archbishop John Nienstedt who resigned last June amid allegations of an ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal and other criminal charges.
Last year, prosecutors in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis brought criminal charges against the archdiocese “for its failure to protect minors.” The criminal charges against the Minnesota archdiocese stem from its shielding a priest accused of sexually abusing children.
Former priest Curtis Wehmeyer is in jail serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2012 to three felony counts of criminal sexual misconduct with two minors and 17 felony counts of possession of child pornography.
Archbishop Hebda was assigned as Apostolic Administrator to temporarily help with the operations of the Archdiocese until the Pope named a new Archbishop also, he was in line to replace Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 in July.
Hebda had served as Bishop of the Gaylord, Michigan, where he was consecrated bishop and installed on December 1, 2009. He had also previously served as Undersecretary (third in charge) of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, an agency of the Roman Curia responsible for the interpretation of church law.
Hebda was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1959 in the community of Brookline. He entered the seminary and studied philosophy at the Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh from 1984 to 1985. He lived at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and attended the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he earned a Bachelor of Sacred Theology (1985–1988) and a licentiate in Canon Law (1988–1990).
On July 1, 1989, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. On February 16, 2000, he was named a Monsignor, and from 2003 he served as under-secretary of the Pontifical Council.
He was named Fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord on October 7, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI. His Episcopal ordination took place on December 1, 2009. On September 24, 2013, Pope Francis named Bishop Hebda Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark. On June 15, 2015, Pope Francis named him Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
In a March 24 press release, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said that he as been “both privileged and blessed” to have worked closely with Archbishop Hebda.
“He is a great Priest, and a great Bishop,” Archbishop Myers said, adding that Hebda’s “tireless, positive approach to dealing with the challenges presented to him will be one of the graces that he will share with the people of the Twin Cities.”