NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The pope has named a coadjutor bishop to help out and eventually take over for the archbishop of Newark, who has faced harsh criticism for his handling of a sexually abusive priest.
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Bernard A. Hebda of Michigan to serve alongside current Archbishop John Myers.
“Archbishop Myers is number one, I wouldn’t even assume to be number two, but certainly the archbishop continues to be completely the one who is the shepherd for the archdiocese,” Hebda said.
“If you wonder if I’m surprised, the answer is, yes,” Hebda added.
Hebda, 54, will also succeed Myers when he vacates the office. Myers is 72 and bishops must submit their resignations when they turn 75. Myers told CBS 2’s John Slattery he enjoys the idea of having a sidekick.
“I intend to be here until I’m 75,” Myers said.
Coming from rural Gaylord, Mich. — which has a population of 3,600, Hebda will have to adjust to his new life at the Archdiocese of Newark, which serves nearly 1.5 million parishioners in northern Jersey.
He said one of his priorities is to work on his Spanish.
“I speak Spanish very poorly and when I consider the list of priorities that’s very close to the top,” Hebda said. “Just listening to the conversations on the street last night out my window I realize I have to work on it.”
Coadjutor bishops are often named for large archdioceses. They take over automatically when the incumbent retires or dies. Naming Hebda with three years to go before Myers retires could be a sign that Pope Francis believed Newark needed fresh leadership now.
“I have tried to approach all of this from an attitude of faith saying that it’s not about me, it’s about what’s good for the church and I always try to act in a way that seeks out with advice what is good for the church,” Myers said. “It was at my own request for the reasons which I have given.”
The Catholic Diocese of Peoria in Illinois agreed to pay $1.35 million to Andrew Ward, a former altar boy who said he was molested in the mid-1990s, when he was 8 years old, by Monsignor Thomas Maloney, who died in 2009. Ward also accused Myers of failing to take appropriate action to prevent the alleged abuse.
A year earlier, a woman told the diocese that Maloney sexually abused her as a child, but he was allowed to remain in the ministry, and Myers did not notify police of the allegation, the lawsuit said.
Myers said he didn’t know about the initial complaint.
“That was never a part of any discussion. I don’t think there are any substantive reasons for doing so,” Myers said.
Robert Hoatson, a former priest and the founder of the nonprofit group Road to Recovery, said Hebda’s appointment is a victory for North Jersey Catholics and believes Myers is finally being held accountable for his failings.
“There’s no question Pope Francis is convinced that this archdiocese is a total embarrassment to the Roman Catholic Church,” Hoatson said. “This is the closest thing to being fired while saving face because since 2001 he has been a disaster in this archdiocese.”
Outside the news conference, where one sign said “Myers must go,” there was disbelief that another bishop was Myers’ idea.
“In my estimation, Myers was given an ultimatum: resign or take a coadjutor bishop, and I think he took the face-saving way out,” Hoatson added.
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