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Wide-ranging reaction to Nienstedt apology: praise, gratitude — and more calls for resignation

nienstedt
Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt’s apology to clergy sex abuse victims published Thursday  drew reactions ranging from praise and gratitude to more calls for his resignation.

“The archbishop is offering humble, thoughtful and decisive leadership,” said Father Bill Deziel, a parish priest who earlier used his church bulletin to ask the archbishop to step down. After the archbishop’s statements, the priest said in an email: “I fully support him and his team and these meaningful steps that he is implementing to ensure that no children are ever put in harms way by abusive clergy.”

The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), meanwhile, wrote to Papal Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganó asking for Nienstedt’s resignation and to have a voice in his replacement [PDF].

“We have grave concerns that the pastoral needs of the archdiocese will be compromised by the amount of time, energy and money that Archbishop Nienstedt will expend as he defends himself and his previous actions in the ongoing sexual abuse and cover-up crisis,” the group’s leaders wrote.

“Even if criminal charges are not brought against the Archbishop or members of his administration, their judgments about priests’ ‘fitness for ministry’ will be continually in question.”

CCCR has six Catholic member organizations: Call to Action Minnesota, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, CORPUS, Dignity Twin Cities, the Compassion of Christ Catholic Community and Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community.

On the website of the Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the archdiocese, Nienstedt apologized for the pain caused by the sex abuse and said he would have an outside agency review priests’ files. He did not, however, acknowledge the archdiocese’s failure to act appropriately on past allegations or agree to turn over a list of “credibly accused” priests and evidence about them.

“Sexual abuse of anyone is absolutely heinous, and it must be opposed with every fiber of our being,” he wrote. “And when it is perpetrated by a member of the clergy, it is an egregious betrayal of a sacred trust. … And so, with genuine sorrow, I apologize to all those who have been victimized, whether on my watch or not.”

The reform group CCCR voted last week to call for Nienstedt’s resignation, but members decided to wait until publication of his remarks to send their letter to him [PDF] and to the Vatican envoy in Washington, D.C.

“We find that we are kind of caught in this tension with our local church,” said CCCR board member Mary Beth Stein. “We didn’t want to jump the gun if what he was going to say was very constructive.”

The column, she said, “seemed like damage control.” “He’s saying he’s sorry, which is good,” Stein added, “but it strikes me as feeble coming so long after the events.”

In recent weeks, headlines have suggested archdiocesan leaders failed to follow through on abuse allegations, failed to turn alleged child porn over to authorities and left a priest in active ministry despite reports of sexual misbehavior. Nienstedt’s Thursday column was his first comments to the public about the news reports.

The archbishop’s remarks came in the wake of highly unusual criticism of his handling of the abuse allegations by parish priests. In addition to Deziel, Father Michael Anderson wrote about the situation in the of Church of St. Bernard newsletter.

Also on Thursday, the Star Tribune reported that Father Terry Rasmussen, pastor of St. Joseph Parish Community in New Hope and Plymouth, said he had lost faith in Nienstedt’s ability to lead the church out of the crisis.

While CCCR’s members, along with the outspoken Father Mike Tegeder, have been critical of church leadership for several years, Deziel’s and Anderson’s remarks were notable because they are priests at mainline, traditional parishes not known for challenging Archdiocesan leaders.

Paula Ruddy, secretary of the CCCR board,  said she was baffled by Nienstedt’s statement in his column that the last month had changed his understanding of the abuse cases. Disaffected Catholics in her group have been asking for dialogue with the archbishop for years but have been repeatedly rebuffed, she said.

“He tells us that we don’t think with the mind of the church,” said Ruddy. “He has told us we should find another church if we don’t agree with the teachings of the Catholic church.”

Ruddy said she received a personal letter from Nienstedt some time ago suggesting she find another church. “The last letter that he sent said we should spend our time on things that are more Catholic.”

CCCR’s members have long called for transparency. A two-way dialogue and more influence from lay people would go a long way toward preventing problems like the wave of sex abuse cases, Ruddy and Stein said.

The church’s written policies regarding abuse are good, they said, but its leadership is closed off. 

“He’s almost like a monarch or a prince of the church,” said Stein of Nienstedt. “If it’s not to his liking, people are just dismissed. I see that in the whole handling of the sex abuse crisis.”

The papal nuncio, by contrast, has encouraged CCCR members to be in touch, albeit as individuals, she and Stein said. In addition to writing to Nienstedt Thursday asking him to step down, the group asked the Vatican’s U.S. representative for a voice in selecting his successor.

“We respectfully ask you to seek recommendations from all the Catholic people of the Archdiocese — ordained, lay, men and women religious — in the matter of a successor Archbishop or any bishops appointed hereafter,” members wrote.

“Vigano wrote us through Nienstedt saying he’s always open to and welcomes recommendations from the laity on the selection of bishops and archbishops,” Ruddy said.

Correction

We have removed a quotation from an email that was mistakenly attributed to Father Michael Anderson.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Wilbur Ince on 10/25/2013 - 11:13 am.

    No Need for Resignation, Let the Legal Process Resolve This

    There seems to be strong evidence that the Archbishop has been actively involved with illegal activity, specifically he is withholding information about active abuse cases from civil officials. Why aren’t the state, counties and cities affected going after this evidence and working to prosecute?

    We have an effective legal structure to deal with this, why aren’t we using it?

    • Submitted by Chris Bjorklund on 10/25/2013 - 01:19 pm.

      Very well put. Worryingly, the clock is ticking on several important walls. First, this organization is clearly not above burying or destroying any potentially damaging material such as the much talked about computer discs hidden since 2004. One wonders how late into the evening church paper shredders are operating these days. Second, were this firm to declare bankruptcy, as seems increasingly likely, other legal processes could well be halted for the duration of court proceedings putting legitimate claims against it in jeopardy.

      The well worn advice to “follow the money” would surely apply here. There is little doubt that such a financial trail would lead to some sickeningly dark corners which this firm would much rather leave in the black.

  2. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/25/2013 - 11:49 am.

    DVDs

    Just make him a DVD to watch and learn about sexual matters in the church, what is right, wrong, or whatever.

  3. Submitted by Judy Jones on 10/25/2013 - 02:26 pm.

    Bishop makes final decisions..

    quoted: “He’s almost like a monarch or a prince of the church,” said Stein of Nienstedt.”

    –That’s because he is. The bishop only has to answer to the pope, no one else. The bishop is the boss, and he is responsible for everything and everyone Catholic in his territory. The only person who can remove him from his position is the pope.
    –Unless, he is found to have committed crimes, then the police can remove him. And they definitely need to be investigating the way this diocese handles sex abuse complaints.

    This past week, Pope Francis took a significant action by removing a high ranking bishop in Germany for lavish spending of parishioners hard earned money, but Francis has yet to take action by removing and demoting bishops and cardinals who cover up sex crimes against kids? Which is more important, to protect money or to protect innocent children?

    Victims and supporters have waited long enough. Number one to go would be Bishop Finn who is a convicted criminal, yet he still has his power and continues to run the KC-St Joe diocese. Pope Francis also needs to fire Archbishop Nienstedt for covering up sex crimes in his diocese.. Resigning won’t work, as we can remember what happened to Law, who is still a cardinal now living at the Vatican.

    And there are others…
    Cardinals and bishops are still covering up child sex crimes, they are still not removing accused predator clergy/employees, 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 there is significant punishment for wrongdoers, nothing will change and children are still very much at risk within this institution today..

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com,
    “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  4. Submitted by Joseph Henderson on 10/25/2013 - 03:01 pm.

    Petition calling for the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt

    PETITION calling for the Archbishop’s resignation is at change.org. Search using the terms nienstedt and resignation. Concerned Catholics of MSP is seeking help in promoting this.

  5. Submitted by Michael Skiendzielewski on 10/26/2013 - 05:30 pm.

    Father Keating—-effectiveness in many areas of his work

    “The Board does not believe that the priest’s faculties should be suspended, given his effectiveness in many areas of his work,” the letter said.

    This statement was contained in a letter to the alleged victim after the Review Board completed their investigation into her claims against Father Keating.

    This statement is outrageous and when read and understood
    from the perspective of logic, it proposes that Fr. Keating’s
    “effectiveness in many areas of work” in some positive way impacts and/or affects the Board’s decision NOT to restrict the priest’s faculties.

    The decision to restrict or not restrict clergy faculties should be based on the facts, evidence, statements, investigation, reports, corroborating information, etc. gathered during an investigation of alleged sexual abuse, not on the effectiveness or positive nature of any of his other priestly duties or functions.

    The focus is to PROTECT CHILDREN and KEEP THEM SAFE.

    Satan himself must surely have an office of his own in many of the leadership/management offices of US Catholic dioceses and archdioceses across the United States.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  6. Submitted by Bob Schwiderski on 10/27/2013 - 09:35 am.

    It’s time for grand jury investigations, subponeas, and search w

    Thank you MinnPost
    It’s time for grand jury investigations, subponeas, and search warrants looking at the child endangerment activities of the Archdiocese of St Paul & Minneapolis. The archdiocese is within the jurisdictions of 12 Minnesota counties, 5 District Courts, and a multitude of cities with reports of clergy sexual abuse – it’s time to step up for protections of our children. Here’s a map of the counties/cities/courts the archdiocese has soiled: http://mnsnap.wordpress.com/

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/28/2013 - 06:33 pm.

      This has always been an option

      Law enforcement at every level is able to (and has) conducted investigations. St. Paul police recently advertised for victims of abuse to come forward. Perhaps the system hasn’t found (as with Rev. Keating) evidence to bring charges.

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