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.
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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