Nearly two years into a clergy sex abuse scandal, Archbishop John Nienstedt [left] has resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Nienstedt, 68, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, 57. They resigned under the church law that allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or some other "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office.
• Nienstedt's departure makes him only the second American bishop in the Catholic Church to resign as the result of a clergy sex abuse scandal.
• The Rev. Bernard Hebda, coadjutor archbishop of Newark, N.J., has been named temporary administrator of the archdiocese.
When Nienstedt arrived in the Twin Cities in 2007, he said his motto as archbishop would be unity, as he explained in a 2010 interview.
"I wanted to spend my time as being a bishop building up the unity of the church, building unity between churches, and then building a sense of harmony in the world," he said.
Instead, Nienstedt presided over one of the most turbulent and divisive periods in the diocese's 165-year history.
Earlier this month, prosecutors charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its "role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm" done to three sexual abuse victims of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.
. . . I really hope the Vatican will involve local Catholics . . . in the choosing of the new bishop, because it's a local church in need of healing," said Massimo Faggioli, an associate theology professor at the University of St. Thomas. Some local theologians, including Faggioli, called for drastic changes in the archdiocese last year. "This resignation is the first step in this healing process, I hope."
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents people who have filed abuse claims against the archdiocese, said civil cases will still proceed, but that the resignations are an important symbolic gesture to victims of clergy abuse.
"It does come with some sense of relief, because he does represent, as head of the archdiocese, the focal point of the longstanding problem," Anderson said. "But it's also important for everyone to realize that this whole problem is not about one man, even though he was at the top, it's about the system and all those that have been part of it.
"This resignation signals to all of us, that there is now some change being pressured at the top in a way it has never been before, and that brings promise for real change from the top on down."
In a letter posted Monday morning on the archdiocese website, Nienstedt wrote:
In order to give the Archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face, I have submitted my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and I have just received word that he has accepted it. The Catholic Church is not our Church, but Christ's Church, and we are merely stewards for a time. 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. ...
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. I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of this Archdiocese and its future leaders. I also ask for your continued prayers for me.
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See also the previous PCV posts:
• In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Failing Children – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 15, 2015).
Archbishop Nienstedt Resigns After Sex Abuse Coverup Charges Against Archdiocese – Inés San Martín (Crux, June 15, 2015).
Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt Resigns After Charges Over Abuse Scandal – David Gibson (Religion News Service, June 15, 2015).
Minnesota Bishops Resign in Vatican Crackdown on Sex Abuse by Priests – Stephanie Kirchgaessner (The Guardian, June 15, 2015).
Catholic Archbishop and Aide Resign in Minnesota Over Sexual Abuse Scandal – Mark S. Getzfred and Mitch Smith (New York Times, June 15, 2015).
John Nienstedt, Archbishop of St. Paul, Resigns After Archdiocese Charged with Cover-Up – The Associate Press via NBC News (June 15, 2015).
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – Hank Shea (Star Tribune, June 13, 2015).
The Line in the Sand – Jennifer Haselberger (CanonicalConsultation.com, June 10, 2015).
It Will Take a New Leader to Repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, June 8, 2015).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Charged with Child Endangerment – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, June 7, 2015).