Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Resignation for Nienstedt . . . but Perhaps an Upcoming "Reassignment"?

In a statement published yesterday on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, John C. Nienstedt declares that, despite calls for his resignation, he will not be stepping down as archbishop.

At one point in his statement Nienstedt says:

In the end, it comes down to this: 18 years ago, Pope John Paul II chose me to serve the Church as a bishop, an authentic successor of the apostles. A bishop’s role is more like that of a father of a family than that of a CEO. I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here.

There is much in these words that I find problematic, but what particularly strikes me is how Nienstedt appears to place more value on being an unquestioning office holder than a self-reflective human being. Indeed, he comes across as an individual who struggles to think and feel beyond the demands and expectations of the office to which he is "bound," regardless of what this might mean for himself, others and the church. Such rigidity (along with its bolstering triumphalism) is quite at odds with the model of leadership embodied by Jesus.

Of course, the whole clerical system of which the office of bishop is part supports Nienstedt in this narrow and entrenched way of operating. This system, after all, is a feudal one. Orders come down from the top and people are not encouraged to think for themselves. The vast majority stick to the rules, follow orders, and value unquestioning obedience above thoughtful engagement and openness to growth and change. And here's something else about the system that is conveyed through Nienstedt's statement: more often than not, when faced with legitimate questions and critiques, the church's clerical caste engenders an unwarranted (and, quite frankly, pathetic) martyr mentality in its members.

It also doesn't really allow for someone like Nienstedt to resign. He could, of course, write to the holder of the same office that appointed him as bishop and ask to be released from his duties. Yet it seems fairly unlikely that he will initiate such a process. Another possibility is that Pope Francis may intervene and "reassign" Nienstedt elsewhere. In a system as dysfunctional as the Roman Catholic clerical caste, such reassignment is often the closest thing to a reprimand or punishment, even if it does mean that the cleric in question lands a cushy job in Rome.

As odious as this is, my sense is that for a significant number of Catholics such a "reassignment" would be tolerable if it means Nienstedt's removal from the archdiocese.

To express your concerns about Archbishop Nienstedt and to add your voice to the call for his removal, write to the papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò at 3339 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20008.

Also, to get involved with the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's efforts to ensure a lay voice in the selection of Nienstedt's successor, click here.

Update on the allegations of misconduct

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reports today that Greene Espel, the Minneapolis law firm hired by the archdiocese to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct with adults by Nienstedt, has completed its work and submitted a report to church officials. Attorney Matthew Forsgren of Greene Espel has declined to discuss the findings and referred questions to the archdiocese. Lee Piche, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, said in a statement on Tuesday that the report “does not comprise” the entire investigation.

“We need to digest the information and any other information we receive,” said Piche, who, according the the Star Tribune, was not available to answer questions.

Notes the Star Tribune:

The law firm’s probe had been a secret until a Catholic magazine wrote a blog item about it in late June. The magazine, Commonweal, quoted Nienstedt’s former canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, as saying she had been interviewed by Greene Espel lawyers.

Haselberger told the magazine that the archdiocese received allegations of improper sexual conduct by Nienstedt with seminarians, priests and other men. She said the archbishop also was accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.

The allegations appear to stem as far back as the 1980s and 1990s, when Nienstedt was working in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

But Haselberger also told Commonweal that investigators asked her about Nienstedt’s relationship with Curtis Wehmeyer, a former St. Paul priest with a history of sexual misconduct when Nienstedt promoted him to be a pastor. In that assignment on St. Paul’s East Side, Wehmeyer was convicted of sexually abusing two boys in 2012 who attended his church.

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio's Madeline Baran, Nienstedt spoke about the allegations and his sexual orientation. Following is an excerpt from Baran's MPR News article based on her interview with the archbishop.

"It is not true," Nienstedt said, of the claims that he engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with other men.

He said the investigation began with a rumor in early December 2013 "around the time that the other false accusation was made against me," a reference to the police investigation into whether Nienstedt touched a boy's backside at a public event. The police investigation ended without charges.

"All of a sudden it seemed like rumors and innuendos were coming out of the woodwork, and I didn't have anything to hide," Nienstedt said. "I know that I've not done anything immoral or criminal or anything of that nature, and so when this came to the attention of my staff, they said, 'Well, we should probably investigate it. We would with any priest.' And I said sure, I have nothing to hide."

. . . Nienstedt said he's not sexually attracted to men.

"And I also want to say that I'm not anti-gay. A lot of the feedback I got during the marriage amendment was the fact that I was a bigot and I was a homophobe, and all this kind of stuff," he said. "I respect every person, man, woman, and child, for their dignity and a son and daughter of God, but no, I'm not struggling with those attractions."

Nienstedt said he thinks the allegations against him are part of an attempt to discredit him for preaching the Catholic faith.

Related Off-site Links:
Nienstedt Defends His Decisions; Says He'll Continue to Lead Twin Cities Archdiocese – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 30, 2014).
Nienstedt Won't Resign – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, July 30, 2014).
Archbishop Says He Didn't Mismanage Abuse Scandal – Amy Forliti (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, July 31, 2014).
To Heal the Church, Nienstedt Must Resign – The Editorial Board (Star Tribune, July 26, 2014).
Archbishop Nienstedt Needs to Go. Now. – Rubén Rosario (Pioneer Press, July 18, 2014).
Holding Church Shepherds Accountable – The Editorial Board (New York Times, July 17, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough" – Bob Beutel (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 10, 2013).
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound – The Editorial Team (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 5, 2013).
Bishop Selection: Calling Forth Our Leadership – The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
It's Time for Nienstedt to Resign
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him?
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism
Time for a Fresh Start in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues
Paul Lakeland on How the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal Reveals a Crisis of Leadership


McAuley said...

Michael, I don't agree with you on this one, but you are right that the situation is delicate.

Archbishop Nienstedt says he won't resign, that a pope appointed him, and it is his duty to serve. The pope could depose him, but that raises some really difficult questions about the scope of papal authority, and the juridical relationship between the pope and other bishops.

Bishops in the past have been deposed by regional bishops' synods. That is how I think it should be done, but I doubt current canon law allows for it, and the NCCB couldn't police itself, anyway. Still, reassignment doesn't seem right. Think of the injustice and the scandal it caused when Cardinal Law was transferred to St. Mary Maggiore, landing him with his feet on the ground and his red hat still on his head. Think of the hurt that caused to to those who had been abused. Or of Law and before him Marcinkus avoiding extradition in Vatican City.

Archbishop Nienstedt abused his authority, so a lateral move that leaves that authority in tact, while embarrassing to him, is not justice. If he gets real pressure from Rome, I think he would resign, no matter what he says now. I think that's what needs to happen. And he needs to stay in the US. At 67 he's young for mandatory retirement, but it's not unreasonable for him to request retirement. He can use a face saving excuse, like poor health--exhaustion, the stress of the job, etc., needing to spend more time with his conscience, or his attorneys, whatever. OK, that was mean.

As furious as I am with him, I don't want to see him humiliated, I'm not interested in retaliation, but he does need to go. He could help out in parishes, play golf, buy a little cabin at the lake. I wish him well, but he must surrender the power he abused.

Mary Lynn Murphy said...

Sometimes a little humiliation is good for us. To me, Neinstedt's humiliation pales in comparison to the humiliation and degradation that he has consistently heaped upon gay folks and their families.

I don't relish retaliation, but the man must be held accountable, and he still does not seem to get it. I cringe at the thought of his playing golf, or helping out in the parishes, or cooling it at the cabin. I would like to see him go very far away from this community - upon which he has wreaked havoc since day one.

And when he does go, I and all of those who worked in the trenches to oppose him will feel vindicated. We will feel that his departure will be justice well served ... after the deep unkindness and colossal insensitivity he has shown to our kids and our families. And on the day he leaves, I will proposes a huge gathering of all of the Rainbow Families, individuals, and allies that have had the temerity to oppose him at every turn.

jamez said...

The man should wear a habit of sack cloth and ashes for the rest of his life...

William D. Lindsey said...

Michael, thank you for the wisdom infused with deep and lively spirituality that you have so long shared with many of us on this blog. I find your report on Nienstedt the best (and wisest and most spiritually alive) commentary I've read to date.