Local Catholics Express Sadness, Satisfaction

By James Walsh
Star Tribune
June 15, 2015

Shortly after delivering a homily about turning the other cheek, the Rev. Jim Schoenberger asked the 50 souls who had gathered Monday for noon mass at the Church of the Assumption to say a prayer for Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche.

Hours earlier, the two Catholic Church leaders had resigned in the wake of the archdiocese’s oversight of sexually abusive clergy members. For some sitting in the pews of St. Paul’s oldest church, that news came as a shock. For others, the announcement came much too late. Several, in fact, said they had lost confidence in Nienstedt’s leadership long ago.

“It is a sad day, but it’s sad that things happened like that, that people had to suffer here,” said Ray Kieser, a member of the parish, located downtown, for 20 years. “It is going to take a new person to come in here and do what they can to repair it.”

Another parishioner, an 83-year-old woman who asked not to be named, said she was “dumbfounded” by the news but “I am glad he resigned. I think he was covering up for people doing terrible things.”

Still another woman, who also didn’t want to be identified, said simply, “It’s been a long time coming.”

There were those, however, less willing to blame an archbishop who took the job decades after many of the cases of priests abusing children first became known.

“It’s shocking and it’s probably good,” said Chris Ransom, who doesn’t belong to the parish, but was attending mass. “I never had any doubts about [Nienstedt’s] leadership myself. I think he inherited something he didn’t create.”

He added: “It’s a tough gig.”

Across town Monday, at the old Blessed Sacrament Church on St. Paul’s East Side, reclamation workers stripped away clay roof tiles from the old rectory. It was at Blessed Sacrament where onetime pastor Curtis Wehmeyer abused two boys — incidents that the Ramsey County attorney’s office has alleged in recent criminal and civil charges that archdiocese leadership covered up. Wehmeyer is now in prison for the abuse.

As workers prepared the former rectory for demolition — the entire property has been sold to Academia Cesar Chavez charter school — a longtime parishioner working to clean out the old church defended Nienstedt for steadfastly defending the Catholic Church and its teachings.

The man also did not want to be named. He did, however, want his voice heard in a chorus of what he called “attacks” against the church.

“The archbishop is a good man. He inherited a lot of problems,” he said. “Nienstedt was embattled before he got here. He was not welcome and it was a sad deal.”

Sad indeed, said Assumption parishioner Gale Bush — sad for all local Catholics.

“I cried,” she said, upon hearing the news of Nienstedt’s resignation. “It made me cry. It’s horrible. Everything good the church is trying to do is overshadowed by this travesty.”

Bush said she believes Nienstedt is sincere when he said he’s stepping down because his “leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of [God’s] church and those who perform them.”

She said she hopes now for healing.

“Some people said he should be prosecuted, but you could go on and on and on,” she said. “Where would you end it? My heart breaks for my church.”








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