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

The resignation comes after criminal charges were filed earlier this month against the archdiocese for its failure in responding to the sexual abuse of children by priests.

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

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.

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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.