Letting the Facts Lead the Way As Archdiocese Seeks to Recover

Pioneer Press
June 16, 2015

The church that has been a central part of St. Paul's identity from our city's first days is poised for a fresh start.

The resignations Monday of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche were needed for the good of the local church, observers told the Pioneer Press.

The announcement came 10 days after the Ramsey County attorney's office brought criminal charges against the archdiocese as an institution for its handling of the abuse case of a St. Paul pastor.

It's a development whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger, the archdiocese's former chancellor for canonical affairs, has called a tipping point.

The charges, six gross-misdemeanor counts brought by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, are the result of a 20-month investigation.

The investigation continues, with a significant commitment: to allow the facts to lead the way.

Choi used those words in a statement Monday outlining his office's intention to finish what it started and to "do only what the law allows and to do what justice requires without fear or favor."

The county attorney also noted that "the goals of our actions are to hold the archdiocese accountable, seek justice for the victims and our community and to take appropriate steps to ensure that what we have alleged and intend to prove about the past conduct of church officials will never be repeated."

For now, only the arch-diocesan corporation has been charged, which means no individual is singled out, and the archdiocese likely would face a fine if convicted, the Pioneer Press has reported.

As we move on, there can be hope that deep local ties and traditions -- coupled with new protocols the church has put in place -- will help the healing.

Two elements of Monday's developments, however, are concerning:

-- Archbishop Neinstedt's statement that "I leave with a clear conscience" received due notice on social media and elsewhere. He may feel so, as he continued, "knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults," but Catholics and others expressed questions about his choice of words.

-- The archdiocese called a news conference on the Chancery steps, but an auxiliary bishop only read a statement and took no questions from the gathered media. As time goes on, an institution focused on healing and a new start won't be well-served by a tight-lipped stance.

It's been reported that Newark, N.J., Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda -- appointed apostolic administrator for the archdiocese -- is expected to arrive in the Twin Cities sometime this week.

A letter to the faithful from Hebda -- who also has a reputation for financial skills, said to be helpful as the archdiocese reorganizes under bankruptcy code -- highlights the perspective he brings:

"While it is always true that we are merely stewards for a time in a vineyard that is not our own, the role of an Apostolic Administrator is particularly temporary," the canon and civil lawyer writes on the archdiocesan website. "It is my hope that I might be able to be faithful to that vision so that whenever a new Archbishop is appointed, he will find in this local Church a vibrant community of missionary disciples that is growing in its knowledge of the love of Jesus and in its shared commitment to the Gospel."

Among the people, he'll find a strong foundation. St. Paul, after all, was the place so proud of its new Chapel of St. Paul in 1841 that residents renamed their settlement in its honor.








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