Minnesota archbishop won't resign amid criticism

July 30, 2014 - 8:04 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Despite criticism over how the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has handled sex abuse claims involving priests, as well as an investigation into his own conduct, the archbishop says he will not resign.

Archbishop John Nienstedt made his comments in a column released Wednesday that will appear in Thursday's archdiocese newspaper, The Catholic Spirit.

"I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here," he wrote. "I have acknowledged my responsibility in the current crisis we face, and I also take responsibility for leading our archdiocese to a new and better day."

The archbishop has been under fire for how he's handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct since last year when his top adviser on church law, Jennifer Haselberger, resigned in protest and went public a few months later. Nienstedt and other top current or former local church leaders had to give depositions in an abuse lawsuit, leading to painful revelations. The archbishop has been the subject of internal and police investigations.

Nienstedt announced July 1 that he had hired a law firm to examine allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by him with seminarians and priests, first reported by the online Catholic publication Commonweal. Nienstedt called the allegations "absolutely and entirely false" at the time. He also said the allegations were old and none involved minors.

Several prominent local Catholics have urged Nienstedt to resign. The New York Times and Star Tribune of Minneapolis both ran editorials this month calling on him to step down, while a St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist wrote that Nienstedt needs to go for the good of the church.

"While it may be difficult to believe, the suffering we have endured is bearing much fruit in reform of practices and correction of decisions that were made in the past, either by me or my predecessors," Nienstedt wrote in his column.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement saying it is "saddened" that Nienstedt won't resign "but distraught that he continues to deceive."

The archbishop said he's never knowingly covered up clergy sexual abuse. He said he's created a new leadership team that puts victims first and will hire a new victims' liaison. And he maintained he's always been honest.

"I am sorry for the distractions I have inadvertently caused that have taken the focus away from the challenging and rewarding work we do as the Catholic Church in our local community," he said. "We must continue to address head on the terrible scandal of clerical sexual abuse. It is apparent that this is the work of the Church we are called to address at this time."

Nienstedt said he regrets that some Catholics have lost confidence in him.

"I hope ultimately to win back that trust," he said.