In the wake of criminal charges being filed against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis for failing to report sex-abuse charges against a priest, its archbishop and an auxiliary bishop have resigned.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché. Bishop Piché had been tasked last year with investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Nienstedt.
The news came days after Pope Francis approved of the establishment of a tribunal for judging bishops accused of covering up or failing to act on cases of child sexual abuse by priests. It also came on the same day that the Vatican announced that it would open a trial in July of its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on charges of sexually abusing boys while he served in the Caribbean and of possessing child pornography after he was sent back to Rome in 2013, the New York Times pointed out.
“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,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a June 15 statement. “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,” he added.
Bishop Piché said in a separate statement that “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. I submitted my resignation willingly, after consultation with others in and outside the archdiocese.”
Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Newark’s coadjutor archbishop, as apostolic administrator of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Hebda, who has a background in canon and civil law, had served as bishop of a diocese in Michigan before being moved to Newark in 2013.
"Mindful of Pope Francis’ challenge to bishops to be true shepherds who walk in the midst of the flock to the point of developing ‘ears open to listening to the voice of the sheep entrusted to their care,’ it is my intention to be as available as possible, while still fulfilling my responsibilities as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark," Archbishop Hebda said in a June 15 letter to the archdiocese.
In reporting the resignations Monday, the National Catholic Reporter explained that the criminal charges against the Minnesota archdiocese stem from its handling of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who is in jail serving a five year sentence after pleading guilty in 2012 to three felony counts of criminal sexual misconduct with two minors and 17 felony counts of possession of child pornography:
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced multiple indictments against the archdiocese June 5 for its alleged role “in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” in Wehmeyer’s case. The charges, which include six different counts and a civil petition, allege that many persons warned archdiocesan officials about Wehmeyer but their warnings were not appropriately heeded.
Wide complaints about Nienstedt’s mishandling of sexual abuse by clergy trace to April 2013, when then-archdiocesan chancellor of canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger resigned her position and came public saying she had discovered unreported allegations of clergy sexual abuse and lapses in investigations.
The following news reports of Haselberger’s claims led the archbishop in October 2013 to appoint a commission to do an independent lay review of the archdiocese’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.