Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Shady Church Sex-Abuse Shell Game?

By Katie Zavadski

Note: This article was first published January 20, 2016 by The Daily Beast.

Archbishop John Nienstedt, accused of covering up
a major sex-abuse scandal, is moving to a new church
– and local residents are not pleased.

A battle is brewing in Battle Creek, Michigan, where residents are less than pleased that an archbishop accused of covering up a sex-abuse scandal has now embraced a second calling as a pastor in their town.



John Clayton Nienstedt served as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis for 7 years but resigned this June, shortly after a prosecutor announced criminal charges and a civil suit against the archdiocese for allegedly covering up child sex abuse. Now Nienstedt has taken up a new post in Michigan, filling in for a sick old friend at St. Philip’s Roman Catholic Church.

A spokesperson for the Kalamazoo diocese told local papers that the arrangement between the archbishop and Father John Fleckenstein, who is ill, is just a simple agreement between friends. But detractors worry that the archbishop’s controversial past is getting a free pass.

Jennifer Haselberger served as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. She was also the person who revealed how the archdiocese allegedly hid sex-abuse allegations.

Haselberger finds it plausible that Nienstedt and Fleckenstein didn’t expect the blowback in Battle Creek.

“[Nienstedt] doesn’t always have the most full perspective on things,” she said. “I can totally see this priest and this archbishop thinking, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

“He clearly doesn’t see himself in the same light as the majority of us do,” Haselberger said.

In a church bulletin, Fleckenstein announced Nienstedt’s arrival nonchalantly. “[O]ver the next few months I envision times that I will need assistance either for health reasons or that I may complete a couple of major projects for the Diocese in my role as Episcopal Vicar for Education,” Fleckenstein wrote. “Archbishop John Nienstedt, retired Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul will be joining us to assist in various pastoral ministries during this time.”

“He will celebrate some of the weekend and weekday Masses, visit the sick in the hospital, visit the sick and homebound, and celebrate Mass for the nursing home and assisted living facilities.”

Fleckenstein added that he expects Nienstedt, whom he’s known for 20 years, to move on in about six months.

But attorneys who represent alleged victims of priest sex abuse were not so generous in their assessment of the archbishop.

“For him to be ordered to another parish is the same sad story that’s been playing out for 30 years,” attorney Jeff Anderson told The Daily Beast. “It’s something they claim to have turned the page on, but time and time again they’re repeating the same pattern.”

"The entire nation's Roman Catholic child sexual abuse scandal just moved to Battle Creek," Patrick Wall, a priest and monk-turned-lawyer, told Michigan Live.

Charges filed by prosecutors allege that while Nienstadt was archbishop, the archdiocese ignored repeated abuse complaints against a priest who was convicted of molesting two boys. The former priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, was sentenced to five years for the abuse, but prosecutors said the archdiocese didn’t act on “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct.”

Nienstedt also misrepresented his handling of other cases where priests were accused of sexual impropriety, according to prosecutors. Though he had testified that he was unaware that Kenneth LaVan, a priest accused of assaulting a teenage girl, was still in the ministry, documents later showed he had gotten consistent updates on LaVan’s position and, and even spent time with him socially as friends.

“My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them,” Nienstedt wrote in a letter of resignation last summer. “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.”

But Nienstedt also faced allegations of child abuse and sexual misconduct himself. A boy accused Nienstedt of touching his buttocks during a confirmation ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul in 2009. The mother later reported the alleged incident to another priest, who alerted police and the archdiocese in 2013. Police declined to pursue charges against Nienstedt, and the archbishop affirmed his commitment to providing “safe environments for all children and youth.”

Another archdiocese investigation into Nienstedt focused on his alleged sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men. Nienstedt called those allegations false, and “a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”

Andrea Perry, the Youth Ministry Coordinator for St. Philip’s and two nearby Catholic churches, did not return a request for comment.

Related Off-site Link:
John Nienstedt's Arrival Angers Some Members of Michigan Diocese – Associated Press via The Star Tribune (January 20, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Ex-Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt Takes Michigan Church Post
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ex-Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt Takes Michigan Church Post

By Peter Cox

Note: This article was first published January 13, 2016 by Minnesota Public Radio News.

Archbishop John Nienstedt, who stepped down in June as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has taken on a temporary pastoral role at a church in Battle Creek, Mich.

Nienstedt resigned the Twin Cities post after Ramsey County prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect children from a predatory priest.

The charge followed two years of revelations about the failure of the archdiocese to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of clergy. Nienstedt, who served eight years as Twin Cities archbishop, admitted no mistakes in his resignation letter.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said Nienstedt should've been defrocked, not reassigned.

"This move sends precisely the wrong message to Catholic employees," he said. "The message it sends is, no matter how severe your wrongdoing is, you'll always have a job in the Catholic Church."

According to the bulletin at the St. Philip Catholic Church (.pdf), Nienstedt will fill in for the head priest, who is undergoing medical treatment, over the next six months.

Nienstedt will perform some weekend and weekday masses, visit the sick and celebrate mass for nursing home and assisted living facilities. He'll also fill in for other priests in the diocese when needed.

Nienstedt could not immediately be reached for comment. The Diocese of Kalamazoo said in a statement that Neinstedt was a priest in good standing and was welcome at the St. Philip Parish.

Related Off-site Links:
Ex-Archbishop John Nienstedt Goes to Michigan Parish – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, January 13, 2016).
Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Robert Finn Have New Homes Outside Former Dioceses – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, January 14, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
CCCR Responds to the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Council of the Baptized Launches 2016 "Open Forum" Series

Focus will be on the roles for women in the church

The Twin Cities-based Council of the Baptized launches its 2016 Open Forum series next Tuesday, January 12 with local church reformer Bob Wedl leading a presentation and discussion about ordaining women in the Roman Catholic Church. Wedl and other members of the Saint Joan of Arc Small Christian Community have been studying this issue for several years.

Council member Mary Beth Stein notes that a short document (reprinted below) will be the starting point for Tuesday's conversation which she says is all about "looking for ways to move forward toward the important goal of female ordination."

"The Council of the Baptized Open Forum is an opportunity for lay Catholics to voice their concerns of conscience," says Stein. "In 2016 we are focusing on concerns about the roles for women in our Church. Ordination is at the top of the list. We welcome local Catholics to join us as we explore this issue and seek ways to bring much needed reform to the Catholic Church."

The Council of the Baptized 2016 Open Forum starts next Tuesday, January 12, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 700 Snelling Ave. S., St. Paul, 55116 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. It continues on the second Tuesday of each month (except July).


Saint Joan of Arc Small Christian Community

On the Subject of the Ordination
of Women as Roman Catholic Priests

“Why Now . . . Why us”

The following are the beliefs of our St. Joan of Arc Small Christian Community regarding the issue of the ordination of women as priests in the Roman Catholic Church:

1. All men and women of the Catholic faith are worthy to serve as ministers of the faith . . . as priests. It is also necessary that they be theologically qualified.

2. The ordination of women is based first and foremost on the very foundation of what our faith professes. The teachings of the Catholic faith of Jesus Christ place great emphasis on equality of all of humanity, respect for each other, non-violence toward each other and above all, love of all of creation and of the creator. While the ordination of women is also clearly a women’s rights issue, it is the teaching of our faith that demands it. The primary purpose of the ministry is to assist people understand the message of Jesus Christ and practice that message of the faith in their daily lives. The willful and arrogant discrimination against half of humanity defiles the very teachings of the faith.

3. The gender of the ministry of the Catholic Church is not etched in the foundation of our faith. It is not a cornerstone of the teachings of Jesus Christ that only male beings are worthy of being ministers. This policy was enacted by the church hierarchy and is one which can and must be changed. Throughout the history of the hierarchical church, its policies and practices have undergone change and some of those changes have been adopted with utmost speed such as with Vatican II. We call for the same level of urgency to the issue of the ordination of women.

4. We believe many current male parish priests as well some bishops and cardinals in the church hierarchy want to openly embrace the inclusion of women to share in ministering to those of faith. We do ask these men to stand up in affirmation of their faith by embracing women’s ordination.

5. We are supporting and facilitating the dialogue within the faith communities to bring this issue to such a degree of significance that the Catholic Church will make the necessary changes so that the Catholic church becomes consistent with the teachings of the Catholic faith. We are not engaged in starting a new church outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

6. The actions of the Church hierarchy against Catholics who are women priests as well as those who support the ordination of women should be one of understanding and dialogue and not one of punishment.

7. We call on members of the community of faith everywhere to accept the responsibility to bring about the change necessary so that the policies of our church regarding women’s ordination become consistent with the teachings of our faith.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Catholic Leaders Stand With Obama on Guns and Demand Republicans Follow His Lead

By Sarah Jones

Note: This commentary was first published January 5, 2016 by PoliticusUSA.

This one is going to hurt Republicans, but it’s right on, because responsible gun measures are a moral issue. Catholics are praising President Obama for taking his announced executive action on gun control.

“President Obama’s executive actions announced today are a welcomed step forward towards ending the scandal of gun violence that continues to plague our nation,” began a statement sent to PoliticusUSA by Christopher J. Hale, Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

They cited Pope Francis calling out the only reason these deadly weapons are being sold to those who plan to inflict harm, “Pope Francis’s words to Congress last September continue to ring in our ears: ‘Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem.'”

The money changers are in the temple of Congress.

The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good called on Congress to follow President Obama’s lead and take action, “Today the President has made a significant step towards doing so. Now it’s up to Congress to follow through so that the dream of the prophet Isaiah can become our nation’s lived reality: a place where spears and swords are beaten into ploughshares and pruning hooks and where peace and justice will prosper.”

The Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is, according to Wikipedia, a non-partisan, Roman Catholic, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which aims to promote “the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square”.

According to their website (my bold), “Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good promotes public policies and effective programs that enhance the inherent dignity of all, especially the poor and most vulnerable. Our work is inspired by Gospel values and the rich history of Catholic social teaching as they inform pressing moral issues of our time. We accomplish our goals through public policy analysis and advocacy, strategic media outreach, and engaging citizens in the service of the common good.”

President Obama is on the right moral side of this argument, and as he likes to remind everyone, a majority of gun owners also agree so he has political will backing his executive action, if moral responsibility is not enough. Republicans have nothing but worn out, stale, debunked NRA talking points. As a nation, we need to stand up to the NRA and support our President in taking these important steps to putting human lives over profit margins.

Related Off-site Links:
Obama Unveils Presidential Plan to Cut Gun Violence – Bill Chappell (National Public Radio News, January 5, 2016).
Obama: “The Gun Lobby May Hold Congress Hostage, But They Can Not Hold America Hostage” – Jason Easley (PoliticusUSA, January 5, 2016).

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Prayer for the New Year

Creator God,

Give us the kindness to hear with compassion,
to offer support, loving comfort, and care.

Give us the courage to do what is needed,
the wisdom to choose what is right and most fair.

Give us the vision to see what is possible.

Give us the faith that will help pave the way
for a present that's hopeful,
a future that's peaceful.

Give us the heart to bring joy to each day.


Text: Anonymous
Image: Michael J. Bayly.