Pope Francis names assisting bishop for troubled Newark, N.J., archdiocese

NEWARK, N.J. — Pope Francis on Tuesday (Sept. 24) named a partner to Archbishop John J. Myers to govern the … Continued

NEWARK, N.J. — Pope Francis on Tuesday (Sept. 24) named a partner to Archbishop John J. Myers to govern the Archdiocese of Newark as Myers faces continuing criticism over his handling of abusive priests.

Bishop Bernard A. Hebda of Gaylord, Mich., will assist Myers in running New Jersey’s largest diocese, which has more than 1.3 million Roman Catholics across four counties. Myers has been archbishop since 2001.

Myers said he requested a coadjutor from the Vatican “some time ago,” but he declined to say when. “I don’t think I need to talk about my conversations with Rome,” Myers said.

As a coadjutor archbishop, Hebda, 54, is expected to succeed Myers upon Myers’ death or retirement. Myers is 72, about three years short of the mandatory retirement age for bishops.

Reporters peppered Myers and Hebda on Tuesday about priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. Myers said that the media have distorted his handling of abusive priests and that the archdiocese has acted aggressively to remove them from ministry and supervise them.

Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse suggested the move was almost certainly tied to scandals that have clouded Myers’ stewardship of the archdiocese this year. During that period, one priest was arrested after violating a ban on ministry to children, and another took up residence in a parish despite a credible history of sexual abuse.

Myers also was faulted last month for missing or ignoring signs of abuse among priests during his former assignment as bishop of Peoria, Ill.

Hebda said that he was surprised but happy about his new placement and that he looked forward to the challenge. “I’m happy to hear I’m going to be busy,” he said.

Experts on the Vatican were more circumspect, noting that although the new pope may have been influenced by the troubles in Newark, the appointment could be the result of other factors, including Myers’ health or a request by the archbishop for help.

Myers rejected a claim that the appointment of Hebda was a rebuke of his administration, saying: “Absolutely not. It was my own request.”

Hebda, who comes from a small diocese in Michigan, said he had little experience with the issue. He said he would reach out to victims of abuse “with a shepherd’s heart.”

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter and the former editor of America, a Catholic magazine, said the appointment of coadjutor bishops has become quite rare in recent years, with just a handful now serving in the United States.

They were far more common before the mandatory retirement rule went into effect, Reese said, because aged, ailing bishops would be unable to carry out the job on their own. Myers served as coadjutor bishop for three years in Peoria before taking over the diocese there.

Reese said he had no inside knowledge of the pope’s selection of Hebda, but he praised it as a “great appointment.”

“I don’t think the pope could have found someone better,” Reese said. “He’s smart, he’s got a sense of humor, he’s very pastoral, and he’s someone who understands the sex abuse issue. He’s on the side of the angels.”

Nicholas Cafardi, a former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, knows Hebda from his days in Pittsburgh and briefly employed him at a law firm.

Hebda “is all the things Pope Francis says he is looking for in a bishop: a shepherd who smells of his sheep,” said Cafardi, a dean emeritus and a professor of law at Duquesne University.

Myers’ critics were cautiously optimistic about Hebda’s appointment, saying Myers had lost moral authority in Newark.

“Hopefully, he is going to make a difference,” said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group. “Archbishop Myers is so compromised that they absolutely need to bring someone else in to run this archdiocese.

“He has not just lost the trust of the faithful, he has lost the trust of his priests,” Crawford said.

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.