Vatican-appointed interim administrator met with Minnesota Catholic reform group

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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As the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese prepares for a new leader, the Vatican-appointed interim administrator has met with a Catholic reform group that the former archbishop had warned his flock against joining.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, appointed apostolic administrator following the resignation of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piché in June, met Sept. 3 with members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) of Minnesota.

“I was pleased to meet with three members of the CCCR and was delighted to learn that they share my interest in engaging in a wide consultation of the faithful in assessing the needs of the archdiocese,” Hebda said in a statement to NCR. “I was also happy to share with them some of the preliminary plans for that consultation, and appreciated their input and offer of collaboration.”

Hebda met with Paula Ruddy, a member of the CCCR board, Michael Bailey and Art Stoeberl.

Ruddy told NCR, “We are interested in having a lay voice, a broad and open consultation for who the next archbishop will be. We are asking that [Hebda] would expand the process of choosing the archbishop to include all people in the archdiocese at an open meeting.”

The coalition co-chair, Bob Beutel, wasn’t at the meeting with Hebda, but he said he was pleased to hear that the archbishop was cordial and had heard of their organization. “It was nice to get that recognition.”

Beutel said the organization was waiting to hear about the listening schedule the diocese has in the works which will be eight sessions at four different locations. He said the organization would “like to see people make known what kind of person the new bishop should be, the kind of vetting that should be done and suggestions of people who might be a good bishop might be.”

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

CCCR is encouraging people to write letters to papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and want the names of the short list disclosed so people can comment on them and do vetting.

“We want to avoid some of the issues we had with the last bishop,” said Beutel. “People knew before his appointment that he was not a suitable candidate.” 

CCCR tried a similar process in 2014, but did not have access to everyone in the archdiocese, only about 2,500 people who they have on mailing lists, according to Ruddy. It seems now they do have the support.

“We didn’t have a way to reach out to people in all the parishes and didn’t have the approval of the archbishop,” Ruddy said.

In 2014, CCCR nominated seven clergy who they thought would be the best candidates for archbishop. The candidates were not contacted by CCCR.

“In order to get this job right, to get to all the people, we need the support of the archdiocese, since this project is in the interest of the whole archdiocese and we need to talk with all the different points of view. That’s our big objective, to work toward unity by honoring diversity,” said Ruddy.

Mary Beth Stein is a member of the board and chair of the Council of the Baptized, which is affiliated with CCCR. She said the fact that the archbishop met with the organization and has agreed to a number of listening sessions brings her hope.

“He’s reaching out to everyone and asking what do you want, what do you need,” she said. “Our archdiocese has become so polarized and our voices have not been heard. The fact that he is cooperating with us and we will be able to assist at a listening session is very hopeful. We would like someone who is able to build some bridges.”

In 2011, the coalition invited Nienstedt to join a lay synod it had convened. Nienstedt wrote the group, declined the invitation and said its organizing was “an affront to the hierarchical ordering of the church ... and a threat to her unity.”

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


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