Nienstedt resigns; New Jersey bishop named interim head of Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis/David Hrbacek
Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt has resigned in the wake of criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” experienced by victims in priest sex-abuse cases.

Nienstedt says he leaves “with a clear conscience.”

The archdiocese has been rocked with priest sex-abuse cases. In early June, criminal charges were filed against the archdiocese, but no individuals, for allegedly covering up the crimes.

Also resigning is Nienstedt’s deputy, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piché.

The Vatican says Pope Francis has accepted the resignations. News reports from Rome say they “resigned under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or some other ‘grave’ reason that makes them unfit for office.”

Officials say the Rev. Bernard Hebda, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, has been named temporary administrator of the archdiocese.

At an archdiocese press briefing at 11:30 a.m., Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens announced the resignations but did not take questions from reporters. He said the archdiocese will continue to work to protect children, and the changes will help the church move forward with the healing process.

The archdiocese first announced the resignations in statements about 5 a.m. today. Nienstedt said:

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.

It has been my privilege the last seven years to serve this local Church. I have come to appreciate deeply the vitality of the 187 parishes that make up the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I am grateful for the support I have received from priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay leaders, especially those who have collaborated with me in the oversight of this local Church.

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.

Bishop Piché said in a statement:

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.

Hebda, now known as the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, had served in Gaylord, Mich., before being transferred to New Jersey in 2013. He has a master of arts degree from Harvard University, a doctor of law degree from Columbia University, and a licentiate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome.

He said in a statement today:

Thee law of the Church reminds us that an Administrator is not to introduce change, but rather to facilitate the smooth continuation of the ordinary and essential activities of the Church, while advancing those positive initiatives to which the Archdiocese is already committed. 

More from the Catholic Spirit on Hebda, which notes that he’s from Pittsburgh originally, and last week was elected chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance at the spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 06/15/2015 - 09:09 am.

    What a black eye for the Catholic Church. All I can say is may God bless those who were abused. They will need all the blessings they can get to deal with the trauma inflicted on them.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/15/2015 - 09:09 am.

    My wife and I will be ever grateful to Bishop Piche for the dedication and guidance he gave to our sons, and all students, at St. Joseph’s school while he was Pastor. We wish him and Archbishop Nienstedt well on their future journeys.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/15/2015 - 12:14 pm.

      Second Bite of the Apple

      I’d really like an explanation of why the mods would not post my original reply to Mr. Swift, as I made no allegation that isn’t in the publicly available charges filed by the Ramsey County attorney. But here goes:

      While Piche has certainly done good works in his career, those good works are overshadowed by his neglect in protecting the youngest in his flock. Even before his elevation to bishop, while at St. Joe’s Piche was made aware on more than one occasion that Curtis Wehmeyer was behaving in an inappropriate manor in regards to students in enrolled in the school.

      The county attorney’s charges document how Piche was aware of questionable behavior on the part of Wehmeyer from that time through the time that Wehmeyer arrested.

      The charges laid out in the court documents are a very interesting read, and Piche looks worse than the outgoing Archbishop. Whatever good Piche has done can not out weigh what he failed to do, and a Catholic family in Saint Paul will live with that until their last days.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/15/2015 - 02:08 pm.

        Curtis Wehmeyer was an associate Pastor at St. Joe’s from 2001 – 06. In 2004, as I understand it, it came to the attention of the Archdiocese that he had approached young, adult men for sex on at least two occasions, which I agree, should have sent it all kinds of alarms. As I recall, Harry Flynn was Archbishop, and Kevin McDonough was the Vicar General then.

        But it does not appear that he started pursuing teen age boys until he arrived at Blessed Sacrament. I admit I haven’t seen County attorney’s report, but as far as I know, Wehmeyer didn’t commit pederasty while he was under the supervision of (then Father) Piche.

        The Catholic family you refer to would have been parishioners of Blessed Sacrament , not St. Joe’s. As I said, our family found Lee Piche an excellent Pastor.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/15/2015 - 09:17 pm.

          Full Record

          There is no way to fully reflect to fully reflect on Piche’s record without a full reading of the public court documents. While they do not allege that Wehmeyer engaged in pedastry while at St. Joe’s, they do allege that Wehmeyer did not respect boundries on numerous occasions while there. Furher, the county attorney has maintained that Piche did not directly address the incidents at St. Joe’s. So we know that faithful Catholics at St. Joe’s brought concerns about Wehmeyer to Piche before he was bishop.

          Later while bishop, the court documents detail other times when priests and lay alike brought concerns about Wehmeyer to Piche. So we know that Piche had a front row seat, and still did not protect the youngest, most vulnerable members of his flock. He cannot claim ignorance of the warning signs.

          I certainly did not mean to imply that the family whose children suffered abuse by Wehmeyer were parishioners at St. Joe’s w, wherehile he was associate pastor but while he was pastor of Blessed Sacrament.

          You may feel Piche was an excellent pastor for your family and St. Joe’s. As for me and my house, I would hold pastors to a higher standard, namely, to place the highest priority on the safety of the vulnerable.

          • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/16/2015 - 09:20 am.

            I agree, Mr. Phelan,

            that a full reading of the court document is necessary to fully understand the failures of the Archdiocese administration in this matter.

            The document is available to read or download at: http://bit.ly/1ek8f5U

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/15/2015 - 01:37 pm.

      Good riddance.

      If he only showed half the obsession in dealing with the systematic abuse within the church as he did with same-sex marriage, he might not of had to resign.

      • Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 06/15/2015 - 04:10 pm.

        It’s hard to comprehend.

        Your comment exposes the depth of Nienstedt’s betrayal and hypocrisy:
        It’s hard to for me, brought up in a non-religious household, to comprehend the depth of loyalty to a religious concept and institution whose leaders ardently protect the clergy class from being held accountable to societal norms and laws of how adults are supposed to act around children but condemn the concept of two consenting adults who love each other wanting to enter into a commitment of marriage just because the two adults are the same sex. In fact, it is mind-blowing.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/15/2015 - 09:53 am.

    It’s about time

    If he leaves “…with a clear conscience,” it’s an example of both delusion and chutzpah not often seen anywhere. The Archbishop should now be prosecuted for – at the very least – obstruction of justice. If there IS any justice, he’ll serve time in jail for protecting the Catholic Church and far too many criminally-abusive priests at the expense of dozens, maybe hundreds, of victims of predation.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/15/2015 - 12:46 pm.

      “Clear conscience”

      Well, I suppose if one has NO conscience, “clear” could serve as an alternative descriptor . . . . . .

  4. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 06/15/2015 - 09:54 am.

    About time

    The systemic sin was in the cover-up and abuse of power. The resignation of the latest sinners does not fix the system but gives us as church a wonderful opportunity to reform. It is the perfect time to let disinfectant sunshine flood the chancery and reveal all the errors of the past so we can go forward in improvement.

    Kudos to the whistle-blowing canon lawyer, the dedicated team from mpr, and those faithful Catholics who expect better of our church.

    • Submitted by Gail O'Hare on 06/15/2015 - 02:10 pm.

      The “latest sinners” in just one case.

      Let’s remember that Wehmeyer is one of countless serious offenders protected by this and previous Archbishops. Choi had plenty of egregious cases from which to choose. This nightmare is decades old and grows out of centuries of abuse. We were taught unfailing faith in our priests and the hierarchy of the infallible Church, from our first whispered confessions of “playing doctor” to our pubescent longings and confusion. Priests were privy to the confessions of young children, sitting in the catbird seat with license to seduce.
      Read the misery of the mother whose sons Wehmeyr abused ( http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/06/05/archdiocese-investigation ) and multiply it by thousands.

      Remember, too, that Nienstedt’s virulent fervor in his campaign to amend our state constitution and ban same sex marriage was a cynical ploy to cover his hypocritical posterior.
      http://www.startribune.com/marriage-amendment-the-archbishop-draws-the-line/172975931/

      I hope civil cases will land him in jail.

  5. Submitted by Steven James Beto on 06/15/2015 - 10:46 am.

    The loss of the Archdiocese and our beloved Cathedral

    Well, we’re back in the catacombs again.

  6. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 06/15/2015 - 12:40 pm.

    Is the word “inevitable” appropriate?

  7. Submitted by Vince Netz on 06/16/2015 - 04:13 pm.

    More Resignations Required

    The Peabody award-winning investigations by Minnesota Public Radio​ are a must-listen for anyone interested in the full depth of corruption in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, the number of leaders involved, and how many decades it has all been going on. The resignation of John C. Nienstedt is a vital first step towards change. However, unless every leader involved in this scandal is removed from office, no one in a position of authority in the Archdiocese can be trusted or respected. It’s now time for a complete, open, and transparent reckoning. Once the house is clean, then there can be uplifting talk about reconciliation and a “healing process.” That time will come, but it is not here yet.

Leave a Reply