Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda "OPINION"

On March 17th, NORTHJERSEY.COM printed a very good "opinion" piece written by Archbishop Bernard Hebda, coadutor of the archdiocese of Newark. It is well worth your reading.


AS I READ Jeff Green’s article (“Lifestyles of the Newark archbishops stand in stark contrast,” March 9) I was disappointed that The Record would have so quickly equated a difference in residence with a difference in lifestyle.

I wish the article would have focused on what Archbishop Myers and I have in common: namely, a commitment to serving the people of the archdiocese and advancing the generous work that has for so long been undertaken by this local church, particularly in support of those who are economically disadvantaged.
In the six months since I was named the coadjutor archbishop of Newark, I have been especially delighted to learn of all that the archdiocese has been doing under Archbishop Myers’ leadership to support elementary and high school students, particularly in our inner-city communities, and to provide needed social services and spiritual support to those most in need throughout Essex, Hudson, Union and Bergen counties. It is largely due to his vision, personal investment of time and talent, and fiscal management that the archdiocese continues to be in a position to put flesh on the Gospel.

While The Record has been quick to criticize Archbishop Myers for the expenditures related to the construction project in Clinton Township, no mention has ever been made of the far greater savings that have come from his decision to live in the Cathedral rectory on Ridge Street these past thirteen years, rather than to maintain a full-time residence of his own. I admire his willingness to forego personal privacy in order to live in community with four or five other priests and I am inspired by his commitment to live in the intensely urban setting of inner-city Newark. While Green notes my three rooms in the dormitory at Seton Hall, he never mentions that Archbishop Myers has only two in the cathedral rectory that he can call his own (a bedroom and an office) or that they are in a zip code that few would consider enviable.

Lifestyle and square footage

My own experience tells me that the lifestyle of a bishop has little to do with square footage. I am the same bishop now as I was in northern Michigan, even though there I lived by myself in a diocesan-owned house on 40 acres with five bedrooms and three fireplaces. The demands on a bishop’s time are such that he is seldom home and rarely has time to develop attachments to creature comforts.

All in all, episcopal ministry would be a poor choice for someone seeking a comfortable lifestyle. Barring a health problem, bishops are expected to work full time until they reach the age of 75 and then to serve generously even after retirement. The hours are ridiculous and the pressures and public scrutiny immense. I chuckle when I think that when I graduated law school in 1983, as inexperienced as they come, I earned more than Archbishop Myers earns today with more than 45 years of priestly ministry under his belt and all the pressures that come with leading some 1,000 priests and deacons, close to 5,000 employees, and 1.5 million faithful.

While there are incredible spiritual benefits to episcopal service, it’s not a reasonable option for anyone looking for the proverbial Easy Street.

Even a bishop’s retirement is complex. While the idea of returning to parish life in retirement may sound appealing, it would take an incredibly generous pastor to welcome into his rectory the disruptions that would accompany a retired bishop or archbishop. A move into a residence for retired clergy could be fraught with similar challenges — perhaps more for the other residents than for the bishop (while the analogy is far from perfect, try to imagine what it would be like if you had to spend your remaining years in the easy chair next to your boss).

A generous shepherd

In the time that I have been in New Jersey, I have come to know Archbishop Myers as a generous shepherd who works tirelessly for his flock, wholly dedicated to the archdiocese of Newark. I have seen no resemblance to the unfair caricature of him that has been drawn in recent weeks.

He knows well the struggles that are being faced by our parishioners and neighbors in today’s difficult economic and social climate and has agonized with them as changing demographics have made it necessary to close some of the schools and parishes that have been so much a part of their lives. His lifestyle, like the lifestyle of any good bishop, has been totally shaped by the demands of his office and a deep desire to serve.

As Archbishop Myers prepares for his eventual retirement, I sure hope that people will get beyond the recent sensationalism and recall the great good that the archdiocese has accomplished under his direction in the past 13 years. There is far too much work that remains to be done for us to succumb to distractions.

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