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Interim leader of Archdiocese has first meeting with Minnesota priests

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The interim leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis began settling into his new role Wednesday, attending a meeting of Minnesota priests in Rochester and reportedly delivering a message of healing.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda's brief visit allowed him to meet with priests at a gathering the archdiocese holds every two years, which is underway at Rochester's Kahler Hotel, KARE 11 reports.

The meeting was planned long before this week's resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Vatican's appointment of Hebda as apostolic administrator until a new archbishop is named.

The Star Tribune reports that after celebrating mass with dozens of other priests at St. John the Evangelist Church Wednesday, Hebda declined to speak with reporters. One of the other priests told the newspaper Hebda delivered a message of healing at the mass.

In announcing their resignations Monday, Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piché cited the need for a new beginning at the archdiocese, which is coping with fallout from clergy sex abuse cases, some of which date back decades.

The bankrupt archdiocese will pay victims of clergy sex abuse as part of the settlement of a lawsuit reached last fall.

In addition, it now faces criminal charges, with the Ramsey County Attorney asserting the archdiocese failed to protect children from a predatory priest now serving a prison sentence for molesting two boys.

Soon after his appointment in the Twin Cities, Hebda told The Catholic Spirit it's too soon for him to say what the archdiocese needs.

He retains his post in Newark, New Jersey, where he is in line to succeed Archbishop John Meyers. While Hebda will be dividing his time, he tells The Catholic Spirit Minnesota is likely to get more of it, saying “The archdiocese has been suffering something difficult and shocking, and it would make sense to give [it] the bulk of time and energy at this point.”

As the priests gathered at their assembly in Rochester, the Rev. Gene Tiffany of St. Paul told MPR News the mood was hopeful as Hebda's arrival marked a new chapter for the archdiocese.

"I think by his presence we will find a sense of security," Tiffany said. "I think he'll be very good for us."

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