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The best path for Archbishop Nienstedt is to step aside

Archbishop John Nienstedt

As a former senior-level political staffer and as someone who has advised leaders of organizations large and small in the midst of crises, I have often been forced to offer counsel that was difficult for the leader to hear. In some cases, the damage that has been done by their actions (or lack thereof) can be repaired; at other times the damage is far too great and the best path forward is for that leader to step aside.

While I am a member of a parish of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, I in no way serve as an adviser to John Nienstedt, its archbishop. However, if I did, I would advise him to take swift action for the benefit of the organization that he has been called to lead.

That swift action would include his resignation, and his own willingness to cooperate fully with both civil and ecclesial authorities.

If we are to be fully honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that if John Nienstedt served in a leadership capacity with any organization other than the Roman Catholic Church, such action would have been taken by now. However, the archbishop does serve the church, an organization with a long, painful and unfortunate history of covering up and enabling the criminal behavior of a segment of its clergy — a history that must come to an end.

Not just ‘old news’

And, let’s be clear: These matters are not “old news” that are simply being brought to the public for reconsideration by the media or others. In recent weeks, new allegations of abuse and the cover-up of abuse have been brought forward by independent journalists and authorities — cover-up directly orchestrated with Neinstedt’s knowledge and often through his own actions.

In recent years, Archbishop Nienstedt has been focused almost solely on an unsuccessful personal crusade to prevent Minnesotans in loving and committed same-sex relationships from having the freedom to marry. He has divided not only the church but also our entire state. He has squandered resources entrusted to his care — resources offered for the betterment of Minnesotans, not hate-filled politics. He turned the chancery into a campaign war room, the pulpit into a beacon of division and distrust.

If Nienstedt had spent a fraction of the time and energy he has spent in his tireless campaign against the freedom to marry in Minnesota on addressing the crisis at his feet involving the health and safety of Minnesota’s children, he might find himself at a different place in history. Unfortunately, that is not the case. His place in history will forever be marked with disgrace and shame.

Eric S. Fought

We in the Catholic Church do not elect our leaders; they are offered to us and we are entrusted to their care. However, that process of selection and designation — even if the process is to include some form of obedience — does not remove the responsibility of the faithful to speak out when that trust has been broken. While we pray for the archbishop and all those that surround him in the leadership of the church, it is our responsibility as laity to step in and step up when necessary. It is time for the archbishop to heed these calls, which are offered in good faith for the betterment of the church we all love so dearly.

A need for new leadership

As a baptized and confirmed Catholic, I take my call to active ministry within the church seriously and respect deeply those ordained and lay leaders who have answered the same call. I also recognize the imperfections we as humans bring to our daily ministry. However, there are times when we must do what is best for the people who we are charged with serving, recognizing the pastoral needs of all. It is becoming clearer with each passing day that the pastoral decision the archbishop must make — in the tradition of Pope Benedict XVI and other leaders of our faith — is to resign and allow for new leadership to bring about healing and renewed trust in our local church.

I pray for Archbishop Nienstedt and his confreres each day. I ask all people of faith to join me in praying that he might find it within himself to do the right thing and humbly step aside.

Eric S. Fought is a master of divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, and formerly was a seminarian and a member of a Roman Catholic religious order. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the university or anyone else associated with it. Fought formerly served in various roles as a political staffer and communications strategist, including positions as communications director of the Minnesota DFL Party, Our Vote Our Future and Minnesotans for a Fair Economy. 


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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/06/2013 - 09:24 am.

    It would be a good gesture, but won’t change a thing.

    The Archbishop is not operating in a vacuum within the church, and does not act independently – nor will his successor.

    A new face will not change the church’s well-established pattern of evading responsibility for its actions.

    It’s the entire church hierarchy – in the U.S. anyway – that is the problem, not a single individual.

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 11/06/2013 - 12:36 pm.

      Although the behavior

      of the hierarchy in this matter has been despicable, I would commend Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston for his behavior in handling abuse problems that did not occur on his watch.

      He should serve as a model for others faced with such problems such as Archbishop Nienstadt.

  2. Submitted by Bob Schwiderski on 11/06/2013 - 10:08 am.

    A Call for the Resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt

  3. Submitted by Chris Bjorklund on 11/06/2013 - 10:30 am.

    Mr. Fought, it seems to me that this insanity has gone well beyond the point where a resignation would be in any way meaningful. If this fellow is of a mind that playing such a card will exempt him from responsibility as he swans off into retirement, my hope is that a grand jury will fully disabuse him of the notion. Further, any sort of “ecclesial authority” must be consigned to the scrap heap on which it belongs. This gentleman himself wields a great deal of ecclesial authority which, as you say above, has been used primarily in a political hit, wasting resources while the sickest of predators were, and most likely still are, enabled and protected. In a successful society there can only be one set of laws, an idea which your organization has sneered at with impunity for hundreds of years, sadly with the complicity of the general public and its elected representatives. Has our society finally come to a tipping point where the public interest will be served before the needs of a decrepit, corrupt organization and its funding stream? If so, maybe the damage done to untold numbers of people will be given some sort of meaning, meaning far beyond the resignation of a criminal.

  4. Submitted by Mary Beth Stein on 11/06/2013 - 11:10 am.

    What we can do…

    Thanks for these well reasoned comments. I am also one who loves our Church yet realizes that the current Archbishop is causing great harm. There is something we can do. We can write to the papal nuncio and express our concerns. We can tell him what qualities we want in a new Archbishop.

    You can write to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, 3339 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008.

    Join myself and others who have already written.

    Mary Beth Stein

  5. Submitted by Judy Jones on 11/06/2013 - 12:24 pm.

    Resigning won’t work…

    Like Enron, these church officials need to be investigated by law enforcement. Those responsible for enabling and empowering children to be sexually abused need to be prosecuted. Not one bishop is behind bars for enabling and empowering child predators to abuse more children.

    And we can not count on Pope Francis to take any decisive actions to protect kids from being sexually abused. He has not removed or demoted one bishop for covering up these sex crimes. Not even KC Bishop Finn, who is a convicted criminal and who still has his power and is still running the KC-St Joe diocese today.

    The St Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese is not unique in how they handle child sex abuse crimes. There are others.
    The sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still covering up sex crimes against kids, they are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they still are not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by all the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids. Until they spend time behind bars for their crimes of cover up, nothing will change and children will still be sexually abused within this secret archaic system.

    Sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day, so let’s hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed will come forward and contact police, not the church officials. They are not the proper officials to be investigating child sex crimes.

    Silence is not an options anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.
    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511.
    “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  6. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 11/06/2013 - 01:07 pm.

    Good article

    This was good article, Mr. Fought is more forgiving person than me. Just yesterday on the Facebook page , I am Catholic and I voted NO, I did not call for Neinstedts resignation, I called for his arrest on prosecution on several felony charges. All of which are clearly spelled out in the MN Criminal Code. I think it was still a good article by Mr Fought.

  7. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/06/2013 - 01:52 pm.

    Incremental change

    Will Neinstadt’s resignation be enough? Obviously no. There is still a whole culture of shame and secrecy in the church that needs to be overcome to truly fix this problem. Despite this, the Catholic church is full of really good people trying to make this right. The people who have stepped forward have shown real courage. Replacing Neinstadt – who is a very, very bad man – with someone who is actually understands and cares about the problem can make a huge difference.

  8. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 11/06/2013 - 03:10 pm.

    A massive problem

    I wonder if, despite all the media coverage of this outrageous problem, we still really grasp the full extent of what’s been going on.

    Do a google search and you’ll never run out of reports…

    “Catholic priest Finian Egan guilty of 30 years of sexual abuse”

    “Hidden priests, secret pasts: Church silent about where it houses credibly accused clerics” The article opens with a picture at the top with the caption: “Children walk past the St. John Vianney Residence for Retired Priests in Rutherford. The Archdiocese of Newark has quietly placed alleged sexual predators there without informing neighbors. The residence is down the street from an elementary school and a high school.”

    “Sex-abuse lawsuit filed against Archidiocese of Portland alleging rape by notorious priest”

    “Catholic Church Abuse Claims Sweep Across Europe”

    “Catholic Church’s pedophile investigator jailed for kiddie porn”

    “Vatican letter told Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report child abuse”

    “UK’s top cardinal accused of ‘inappropriate acts’ by priests”

    “Pope Benedict ‘complicit in child sex abuse scandals’, say victims’ groups: Pope Benedict XVI ‘knew more about clergy sex crimes than anyone else in church yet did little to protect children’, say critics”

    And on and on and on.

    Earlier this year the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child “released a report… highlighting widespread sexual abuse committed by clerics and staff of religious institutions in America, along with a lack of measures “to properly investigate cases and prosecute them”.

    “The committee is deeply concerned at information of sexual abuse committed by clerics and leading members of certain faith-based organizations and religious institutions on a massive and long-term scale,” the report said.”

    To me this gives every appearance of being a mass criminal conspiracy. And yet, where is the political leadership in our state or nationally that’s willing to take this seriously? How many more victims, how many more cover-ups, how many more destroyed lives will it take?

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/06/2013 - 04:53 pm.

      Has anyone ever investigated this as a RICO case ?

      Couldn’t RICO be applied here ? Its scope seems to have been expanded far beyond economic crimes of Mafia types. There is no doubt a conspiracy, and it is criminal in nature and long ongoing.

      I would like to hear from a U.S. Attorney why it couldn’t be applied to the Catholic Church’s long years of covering up crime and enabling the criminals by moving them around to new parishes they way they have done.

  9. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/06/2013 - 10:47 pm.

    Read an article in my local paper last week

    Buried in the back was an article about a man who physically abused a young boy and sexually abused him with a stick. Thought that such a story would be bigger, like maybe front page Strib big. Realized that the alleged abuser wasn’t a Catholic priest. That explains it. Figure the abuse within the Catholic Church and it’s small percentage of our population and multiply it by the rest of the society and you’ll begin to see the real problem.

    • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 11/07/2013 - 08:33 am.

      The difference

      Is that when someone other than a Catholic priest engages in sexual abuse of children, those people are generally reported and prosecuted. The problem isn’t just the abusers – who can come from anywhere – but also evil men like John Neinstadt, who cover up and enable sexual abuse. Catholic church leaders who protect abusers at the expense of the child victims are as bad as the abusers themselves.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/07/2013 - 07:47 pm.


        Report the crime to the police, not Jeff Anderson. Report and prosecute rather than sue. Imagine the difference in results!

        I think that if you look closely, most of the recent allegations are from the Flynn era not Neinstadt. No one blames President Obama for all the Bush problems…

  10. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 11/07/2013 - 10:30 am.

    How about CONTINGENT tax benefits for religious organizations ?

    The hundreds of billions in real estate tax breaks for religious organizations should be premised on obeying the laws – AT LEAST the criminal laws.

    If the Church was looking at loss of all those tax breaks in jurisdictions where they commit crimes (and just how much real estate does the Church own in the U.S., anyway ?) – REST ASSURED the Church hierarchy will bring a stop to criminality in its ranks.

    Little matters more to the Church than money.

    • Submitted by Chris Bjorklund on 11/07/2013 - 11:37 am.

      Very good idea. The outstanding tax bills on the Cathedral of St Paul and the Basilica of St Mary alone would have this organization scrambling to spit out the identities of its in-house criminal population. Sadly, this may be the only coercion to which this cartel will respond.

      Whilst on the subject of finance, this would also be an opportune time to lift the lid on the black box in which this organization stashes its riches. No doubt there is many an intersection between cash and criminality which skilled forensic accountants could uncover. A firm can’t spend decades harboring criminals without spreading some cash around, and given the legendary level of opacity shielding this group’s finances a look behind the curtain is well overdue.

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