By David Cruz
Archbishop Myers and the new coadjutor — Archbishop Bernard Hebda — entered today’s press conference to a standing ovation from an audience made up of auxiliary bishops and archdiocese staff there, perhaps, to provide a buffer of good cheer against a press corps eager to hear from the usually camera averse church leader. His tenure has been marked by controversy, including charges that he helped to cover up child sex abuse in Peoria and failed to properly supervise Father Michael Fugee, who violated a court order by repeatedly ministering to children. Today Myers was asked if he would have done anything differently.
“Well, I probably would meet more often with the editorial board of the Star-Ledger,” he quipped to wild applause.
It’s been that kind of relationship with the media. Myers says the press has gotten a lot of things wrong, especially surrounding his role in the Fugee controversy. He said the coverage was slanted and often inaccurate, although he passed up the chance to set the record straight today.
“Am I angry? No,” he added. “I pray that I not be angry because I don’t think that’s appropriate and that’s not the Christian approach. Rather to pray for everyone, everyone in the Archdiocese which I do several times a day, including those who are in the media.”
Myers said the idea for a coadjutor — basically an assistant archbishop — was his and that he had reached out to Pope Francis “some time ago.” He says Hebda, whose most recent post was as Archbishop in tiny Gaylord, Michigan, was brought in to lend a hand with a number of church initiatives, including a restructuring of the church’s elementary schools. The coadjutor is generally considered the eventual successor to the current Archbishop. Today, Hebda said he was eager to serve in a supporting role.
“Archbishop Myers is number one,” said Hebda. “I wouldn’t even assume to be number two. The Archbishop continues to be the one who is the shepherd for the diocese and I and the other auxiliary bishops collaborate with him in doing that work but we very much will be looking always to the Archbishop for his guidance.”
Critics, like sex abuse survivors’ advocate Robert Hoatson, who has been dogged in his calls for Myers to step down, say they’re hopeful that Hebda’s arrival will mean the beginning of a transition toward the end of Myers’ tenure. But Hoatson said Hebda will need to act quickly.
“He’s coming to an archdiocese in crisis, serious crisis, we all know that,” said Hoatson. “Hopefully, Archbishop Hebda did the polite thing by congratulating his predecessor but hopefully will now say, ‘This is my show and I’ve got to heal something that is very critical, very serious here.’”
At 54, Hebda is almost 20 years younger than the man he will likely replace. In his first public appearance, he was self-deprecating and casual, already a marked departure from the often patrician and recently combative Myers.
Archbishop Myers says he is in good health and expects to stay in Newark until he’s required to retire at 75. But one thing is certain; today we’ve met his successor, who may find out quickly that he’s not in Gaylord anymore.