Listening Sessions continue in Minneapolis-St. Paul

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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Listening sessions, called by Archbishop Bernard Hebda, interim administrator of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, continue to provide the opportunity for the local church to say what qualities they want in the new archbishop.

Lay activists here say they hope the sessions can become a model for ongoing lay input.

Hebda is coadjutor archbishop of Newark, N.J., and is acting as administrator of the Twin Cities archdiocese until a permanent replacement is named. Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche resigned in June as the archdiocese became more deeply embroiled in a scandal around failing to protect children from sexual abuse and as Nienstedt himself faced allegations of sexual improprieties with adult men.

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) of Minnesota, the reform coalition that pursued the idea of lay collaboration with Hebda, is thankful Hebda’s efforts to lead the Archdiocese of the St. Paul-Minneapolis selection of a new archbishop. CCCR plans to send a letter to Hebda thanking him.

The letter to Hebda reads in part, “We especially appreciate the unique opportunity you gave the laity to present directly to you their ‘voice from the pew’ at your Archbishop Selection Listening Sessions. We hope you will make available to the laity a summary of these Listening Sessions.”

Robert Christensen, a member of Call to Action Minnesota and board member of CCCR, told NCR “ … while we appreciate the unique chance for laity input the Listening Sessions gave us, we strongly believe our Archdiocese would greatly benefit from ongoing, consistent and well-organized input from the laity.” He added, “This unprecedented ‘Voice from the Pew’ could be organized via the parishes, deaneries on up to and including the Chancery Office.”

The listening sessions include a welcome from the archbishop and communications staff, people are seated at a table and answer three questions. One person from each table is invited to speak to the whole gathering answering the questions: “What do you think the Archdiocesan strengths are?”, “What are the challenges faced by the Archdiocese?” and “What are three traits  you would consider necessary for the next archbishop?”

Ralph Altenweg of Dayton, Minn. attended the listening session at St. Stephen Catholic Church, Anoka. He told NCR he attended the session because “I’m an old guy and never in my lifetime has there been any input from the layperson that might help influence who our next bishop would be. I wanted to find out what it’s all about.”

Altenweg said he was impressed by the evening and thought it was very worthwhile. He believed Hebda “was personable as far as almost like a parish priest. He has a demeanor that was very conducive to this type of thing and really wanted to know what people thought.”

He said he was struck when one of the women in the session asked what influence the meeting would have on the pope’s decision in Rome. Altenweg said Hebda told them “when you have two archbishops retire in one day, the pope notices.” 

Mary Beth Stein, a council member for the Council of the Baptized and on the board of directors for CCCR, has attended the first three sessions open to lay people. She told NCR of the enthusiasm and excitement of people being able to talk and have the bishop standing in front of the room. “You can see how exciting it is for people,” she said. “They are scrambling and very much appreciating it and grateful.”

Stein said a side benefit of the process is being given specific questions to address at each table, with one spokesperson presenting the thoughts to the bishop on behalf of the table. She noted that the tables included people from all sides -- progressive, conservative, middle of the road and “we don’t often get a mix of ideological in one room let alone the same table. Anything that can help reduce the polarization of the church is a huge benefit.”

According to The Catholic Spirit, Hebda plans to share summaries of the sessions with the U.S. papal nuncio, the next archbishop and Catholics in the archdiocese.

Remaining Listening Sessions planned:

Monday, November 2:
7 – 9 p.m., Saint Peter, Forest Lake

Tuesday, November 3:
7 – 9 p.m., Divine Mercy Catholic Church, Faribault

Wednesday, November 4:
7 – 9 p.m., Woulfe Alumni Hall, Anderson Student Center, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

[Elizabeth A. Elliott, is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Contact her at]

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