Pope accepts resignation of two top American clerics

Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche of St. Paul and Minneapolis, just days after criminal and civil charges were filed against the archdiocese for alleged failure to protect three boys from sexual abuse by a former priest of the archdiocese.

Curtis Wehmeyer, who was dismissed from the priesthood in March, is serving a five-year prison sentence for the abuse which he committed between 2008 and 2010. 

In a statement, Archbishop Nienstedt, 68, said he had submitted his resignation “to give the archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face.

“The Catholic Church is not our church, but Christ's church, and we are merely stewards for a time,” he continued. “My leadership has unfortunately drawn away from the good works of his church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down.”

Archbishop Nienstedt, who was appointed coadjutor archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2007, and installed as its archbishop in June 2008, thanked the clergy, religious, and laity of the diocese for their support, and said: “I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Bishop Piche, 57, was ordained as an auxiliary for St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2009, and stepped down because, he said: “The people of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis needed healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, so I had to resign.”

Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, New Jersey, a canon lawyer, has been named apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese.

The acceptance of the two resignations is especially striking given it comes in a week when Rome has announced plans for the establishment of a tribunal to investigate bishops who have improperly handled allegations of abuse.  

In a separate development, Jozef Wesolowski, the laicized former nuncio to the Dominican Republic, will stand trial in a Vatican court on charges of the sexual abuse of minors and possession of child pornography.