Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to work with lay advisory board

Cathedral of St Paul Credit Sam Wagner Shutterstock CNA The Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. | Sam Wagner/Shutterstock

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is organizing a lay advisory board aimed at bringing input and suggestions from parish councils to the archbishop's office.

Its goal is to help bring parishioners healing after a tumultuous past several years in the archdiocese.

Father Michael Tix, archdiocesan liaison for the effort and vicar for clergy and parish services, told CNA in an interview that the archdiocese set up the board in a way that mirrored the existing diocesan presbyteral council.

"It does help to be able to create a flow of information back and forth from parishes to archbishop, and archbishop back to parishes through their parish council though an existing structure that's there," Tix said.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda asked each parish pastoral council last December to choose a representative to send to meetings held during a week in March with fellow parish figures within individual deaneries.

Subsequently, each deanery in the archdiocese will elect a representative – chosen from among the parish figures – and an alternate to sit on the lay advisory board. That representative will serve as a link between the archbishop's advisory board and the parishes back home, Tix said.

"The deanery rep would be part of the lay advisory board that would meet with the archbishop, and then that deanery rep would also go back to bring together the parish reps to share information, get feedback from the advisory board meetings as well as from the parish reps, to serve as a conduit," he said.

The discussions with the archbishop, Tix said, will mainly be about the "particular needs" of parishes or areas of deaneries in order to move forward and promote healing after "four years of bankruptcy, civil and criminal charges, [and] resignations."

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015 amid many abuse claims that had been made possible under Minnesota legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court. In addition, former Archbishop John Nienstedt stepped down in 2015 after the diocese was charged with mishandling cases of child sexual abuse.

The discussions will also be a chance for the archdiocese to inform the lay representatives about what has been going on in the local Church regarding sexual abuse, and what steps the archdiocese is taking to addess it.

"The last four years have been a tough four years for our archdiocese, clearly for the victims and survivors on the one hand, and for anybody who's been a parishioner," Tix said.

"It's been a tough time to be Catholic in the Twin Cities because of a lot of stuff that's come out that we've had to deal with and that we continue to deal with. So I think the first thing that we're going to talk about is about healing. How do we bring healing to folks? There's a range of need that's there. And so in order to move forward we have to address that healing," Tix said.

The board's first meeting with the archbishop will be April 3, Tix said, and he said he notes a "positive energy and enthusiasm" in the participants, which he credits to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

He said this lay advisory board may also assist in planning a diocesan synod in the future, a project that Archbishop Hebda has discussed in the past but which "hasn't really been defined in terms of time or scope."

Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse. He has said there are no plans for additional parish appeals to help to fund the settlements, saying last June that most of the settlement money – $170 million – would come from the archdiocese's insurance and from money already collected from parish appeals.

The settlement, announced after more than two years' deliberation, includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy. The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

Hebda has said he will continue to advocate for an independent review board for sexual abuse cases, and would commit to transmitting the entire 2014 archdiocesan investigation in former Archbishop Nienstedt's conduct to whatever national or regional review board is created. He has also said that he strongly favors a "lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop."

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