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NEW YORK – When Bishop Andrew Cozzens took the podium at his introductory press conference in the Diocese of Crookston Oct. 18, he was quick to acknowledge the dioceses checkered past of clerical sex abuse and stated clearly his intentions to help it heal.
“I am aware of some of the need for healing in the Diocese of Crookston and would really like to be a part of that,” Cozzens, currently an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said. “I look forward especially to just listening to people’s experience and hearing what it’s been like here in the Diocese of Crookston the past several years.”
Cozzens’s appointment as the eighth bishop of Crookston was announced by the Vatican on Oct. 18, and he will be formally installed on December 6. The Diocese of Crookston serves the 14 northwest counties of Minnesota with more than 32,000 Catholics and 66 parishes.
The announcement came about six months after the diocese’s previous bishop, Bishop Michael Hoeppner, 71, resigned on April 13 at the request of Pope Francis following a 20-month long investigation into allegations that he mishandled allegations of clergy sex abuse.
The investigation was the first in the U.S. under the Vatican’s new procedures for accountability, known as Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which mandates that any allegation of abuse against a bishop must be investigated. As metropolitan archbishop of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis oversaw the investigation conducted by experts in safe environment and civil and canon law.
At the press conference, Cozzens cited his own experience helping the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis through its own clerical sex abuse crisis when it released the names of 30 former priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of minors.
That all happened soon after Cozzens was installed as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese, which he said led him to participate in every aspect of the sexual abuse crisis including meeting with victims, removing priests from ministry, working with law enforcement and civil authorities, and walking through bankruptcy.
“I’ve seen how difficult it can be to change the culture of the church so that we deal with the sexual abuse crisis correctly and that to me has become one of the important things that we’ve been able to do in the archdiocese is change the culture so that we understand that victims are in fact the people that we should be most caring for in the crisis and that the church can actually grow towards health and being a part of the solution for this great problem,” the bishop said.
The Diocese of Crookston’s apostolic administrator, Bishop Robert Richard Pates, welcomed the new bishop.
“He brings an engaging pastoral spirit, extensive experience, positive energy and will soon have the smell of the sheep of Northwest Minnesota on his person. May his days among us be especially blessed,” he said in a statement.
Hebda said the archdiocese is “honored” by Pope Francis’s decision.
“I am not surprised that Pope Francis would have seen in him the extraordinary priestly gifts that have long been recognized by the priests and faithful of this archdiocese who have come to know him and love him as an energetic and capable shepherd with a huge heart, sharp intellect, and unfailing love for Christ and his church,” Hebda said in a statement.
Cozzens, 53, was ordained into the priesthood in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1997. After his ordination, he served as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Saint Paul and then Faribault Catholic Community (now Divine Mercy) before being sent to Rome for doctoral studies. Upon his return to Minnesota, he served as a professor of sacramental theology and as a formator at the Saint Paul Seminary from 2006 until 2013.
In the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Cozzens has served as the vicar for Catholic education and supervised the archdiocesan synod process while also overseeing the offices of Latino Ministry, Evangelization, and Marriage, Family and Life.
Cozzens is the chair of the board for NET Ministries, St. Paul’s Outreach, The Institute for Priestly Formation and The Seminary Formation Council. He’s also the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis where he is spearheading a three-year Eucharistic Revival that will begin in June of 2022.
On Oct. 18, he said he’s looking forward to this next chapter in the Diocese of Crookston.
“I am grateful to our Holy Father for entrusting me with this important mission and my heart is already filled with love for the faithful, the priests, and the religious of the Diocese of Crookston,” Cozzens said. “I have great excitement for this opportunity to serve.”
“I look forward to getting to know the priests, deacons, consecrated religious and many faithful laity of the diocese and I pray that together we can grow to be Christ’s faithful disciples who make present his love in Northwestern Minnesota,” he continued.
The mood at the introductory press conference was light. Cozzens joked about not recognizing Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre’s phone number and ignoring his call three times because he was teaching a class. He then thanked Pope Francis, saying “I know he’s probably not watching, but I’m just really grateful.”
Towards the end he encouraged those in attendance to ask him any questions they had in mind, to which one woman asked if he blessed fields.
“Of course I bless fields,” Cozzens replied. “We need those fields to feed us … I look forward to blessing fields and farm machinery.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg