Archbishop John Nienstedt, the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché resigned on Monday in the aftermath of a sexual scandal cover up. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was charged for ignoring and mishandling serious complaints about children being sexually abused by a local priest.
According to reports by USA Today, Nienstedt and Piché both resigned under a code of canon law allowing bishops to resign before their retirement due to illness or some other “grave” reason that renders them unfit for holding office. Pope Francis and the Vatican accepted the resignations of both men on Monday. The pope appointed the Rev. Bernard A. Hebda to be the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a new archbishop is put into office.
The resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché came only a few days after the Vatican announced the establishment of a new tribunal created to crack down on sexual abuse scandals among the clergy. Housed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the tribunal will investigate and hear cases against bishops who have been involved in covering up incidents of sexual abuse. There is much speculation as to whether the two bishops resigned in order to avoid having to undergo such a hearing.
In a statement released on the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis website, Nienstedt announced he was resigning because his current leadership position was proving to be a distraction, and he was stepping down with a “clear conscience”.
“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. 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.”
The charges leveled against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Archbishop resulted from the mishandling of an incident involving Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul. According to the New York Times, Wehmeyer sexually assaulted three minors in Minnesota after intoxicating them with drugs and alcohol. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his sexual misconduct in 2013 and recently removed from the church in March. Wehmeyer is also accused of sex crimes in Wisconsin.
NBC News reports that in a similar cover up incident in April, U.S. bishop Robert Finn also resigned after being charged with failing to report a child abuse incident. Since the papacy of John Paul II, there have been 16 other bishops who have resigned or been forcibly removed from office due to charges involving abuse scandals, and Archbishop Nienstedt marks the 17th church official to step down.
[Photo by Jerry Holt/Star Tribune]