Archbishop's Resignation Was Inevitable

June 17, 2015

In this July 30 photo, Archbishop John Nienstedt talks with a reporter at his office in St. Paul. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis reported a $9.1 million operating deficit for fiscal year 2014.

When John Nienstedt was appointed archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, it was noted that his outspoken management style would be a contrast to his predecessor, Harry Flynn, a decidedly low-key personality.

"Much ink has been spilled in the press over speculation about how (I) will differ from the present archbishop," Nienstedt said during his welcome Mass nearly eight years ago at the Cathedral of St. Paul. "But frankly, I believe that speculation is misplaced."

It turns out it wasn't. Nienstedt called for unity when he celebrated his first Mass in St. Paul, but instead, he presided over the most turbulent period in the diocese's history. He resigned Monday, 10 days after criminal charges were filed against the archdiocese by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office for its "role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm" in priest sex-abuse cases.

"My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of his church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down," Nienstedt said in a statement posted by the archdiocese.

While his resignation was overdue, we credit Nienstedt for recognizing his continued presence was a hindrance to the thousands of clergy and lay people who have worked selflessly for the church. Nienstedt's deputy, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche, who also stepped down, echoed the archbishop's tone with his statement: "The people of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign."

Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, Nienstedt is a staunch traditionalist. He surprised no one by becoming involved in the 2010 drive for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, by appearing in a DVD that was mailed to Catholic families throughout Minnesota. The proposed amendment failed, but Nienstedt's advocacy for it alienated many Catholics.

Nienstedt's leadership would continue to be scrutinized, especially after former archdiocese lawyer Jennifer Haselberger went public in September 2013 with allegations that church officials had ignored or concealed incidents of sexual impropriety and clergy abuse of minors. In October 2013, the archdiocese announced an independent task force to investigate the way church officials have handled accusations of priest misconduct. In December 2013, under court order, the archdiocese published a list of 34 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Also in December 2013, the St. Paul police chief publicly chastised the archdiocese for not cooperating with its criminal investigation into clergy sexual abuse.

In July 2014, Haselberger made more detailed claims, alleging 20 of 48 men supposedly restricted due to sexual misconduct by the archdiocese were still in active ministry. Later that month, Nienstedt said he wouldn't resign, dismissing allegations that he mismanaged claims of clergy sexual abuse. In January, the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization after dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits were prompted by the easing of statute of limitations by the Minnesota Legislature.

Finally, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office filed criminal charges on June 5 against the archdiocese, alleging church leaders failed to protect children from harm by ignoring problems with former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys while he was pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.

In his resignation statement, Nienstedt said, "I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults."

After Pope Francis appoints a successor, the next archbishop undoubtedly will reiterate the call for unity. It's our hope that Nienstedt's failed goal will finally be achieved among the 825,000 Catholics in the archdiocese's 187 parishes.








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