Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and has appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Newark’s coadjutor archbishop, as apostolic administrator.
Archbishop Nienstedt’s resignation comes less than two weeks after a prosecutor filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to report sex-abuse charges against a priest.
The Pontiff also accepted the resignation of Bishop Lee Piché, one of Archbishop Nienstedt’s auxiliary bishops.
“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,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a June 15 statement. “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.”
“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,” he added.
Archbishop Nienstedt had been under pressure to resign because of complaints that the archdiocese had failed to respond to charges of sexual misconduct by priests, most notably in the case of Father Curtis Wehmeyer, who is now serving a 5-year prison term. The archbishop had also been charged with personal misconduct-- charges that he heatedly denied.
In December 2013, Archbishop Nienstedt temporarily stepped aside, handing over leadership of the archdiocese to Bishop Piché, while police investigated charges that he had engaged in inappropriate conduct with a young man. Police found inadequate evidence to support the charge, and in March 2014 the archbishop returned to active ministry. However, in December 2104, Bishop Piché revealed that the archdiocese had engaged a criminal-defense lawyer to conduct a further probe of charges against Archbishop Nienstedt.
Bishop Piché said in a separate statement that “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.”
In a June 15 letter to the archdiocese, Archbishop Hebda said:
Mindful of Pope Francis’ challenge to bishops to be true shepherds who walk in the midst of the flock to the point of developing “ears open to listening to the voice of the sheep entrusted to their care,” it is my intention to be as available as possible, while still fulfilling my responsibilities as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark.
As the Universal Church prepares to embark on a Year of Mercy, I look forward to getting to know this local Church and experiencing in a new context the marvelous ways in which the Lord works through His people to make His grace and healing presence known and felt, even in the most challenging of times.
Our loving God frequently finds ways to remind us that even those who exercise leadership in the Church do so as laborers and not as the Master Builder: the Church is not ours but Christ’s. While it is always true that we are merely stewards for a time in a vineyard that is not our own, the role of an Apostolic Administrator is particularly temporary. http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=25254