MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Pope Francis announced Thursday that the man serving as the acting archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis will get the job permanently.

The announcement came as a surprise to everyone, including the new archbishop, Bernard Hebda.

Hebda, 56, had been serving as acting archbishop for the last nine months following the abrupt resignation of former Archbishop John Nienstedt.

Nienstedt stepped down amidst an escalating child sex abuse scandal and ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

The pope made the appointment after presiding over a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Both experts and local Catholics agree the new archbishop faces enormous challenges.

At a hastily called news conference Thursday morning, the new archbishop designate said if he had known of the appointment he would have made some changes.

“I would have brought a better suit, and made sure I had a haircut,” he said.

His easygoing manner is a marked contrast to the austere style of his predecessor.

But experts give Hebda, who has degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School, points not just for style but for substance.

“Hebda has a strong intellectual side,” said professor and church historian Massimo Faggioli of the University of St. Thomas. “He has legal experience, but he is also very good at interacting with people — that is the magic mix to be a bishop.”

But the group SNAP, which represents victims of priest sexual abuse, criticized Hebda’s appointment as “a disappointing choice for an archdiocese that deserves better.”

Charles Reid, a professor of cannon law, agrees with Faggioli.

“Archbishop Hebda, over the last nine months, has shown himself to be someone who can conciliate, someone who can heal,” he said.

The for healing was evident Thursday among the faithful in Minneapolis.

“Both of my kids have left the Catholic Church and a lot of our friends have,” said believer John Locke. “[Hebda] has got a mammoth job: trying to get this entire diocese straightened out.”

Hebda hinted when it comes to the task before him, he may handle things more aggressively when he is installed permanently. Until now, his primary concern has been “to do no harm.”

His installation as the permanent archbishop will come at a mass in St. Paul on May 13.

Hebda’s appointment was a surprise was because he was expected to be named the permanent archbishop in New Jersey.

Esme Murphy

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