Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 17, 2013 / 02:04 am
Archbishop John Nienstedt has apologized for sex abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis, urging Catholics to be hopeful that continued progress will be made in preventing the crimes.
"The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local Church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry."
"I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better," the archbishop said in his Dec. 15 homily at two Masses at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis.
The archdiocese's newspaper The Catholic Spirit on Dec. 5 published a list of 32 priests who have been "credibly accused" of sexually abusing minors. Another two on the list were accused of sexual relations with women. The list included the priests' assignments, dates of removal from ministry, current status, and current place of residence.
The archdiocese first compiled the list in 2003 in response to a request from New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was studying clergy sex abuse under a commission from the U.S. bishops' National Review Board, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
The Archdiocese of Minneapolis list was published after a court order following allegations of clergy sex abuse and allegations that some church officials covered up the abuse. The Diocese of Winona was also ordered to disclose a list of accused priests.
Several of the Minneapolis diocese's priests were not previously known to the general public to have faced abuse allegations. About one third of the listed clergy have died. Three of the accused priests served at the same parish in 1984, St. Joseph's Church in Lino Lakes, Minn. Some priests on the list denied wrongdoing.
Archbishop Nienstedt responded to the list in his homily, saying that while "only one of the crimes against minors has happened in this archdiocese since 2002, that is still one too many."
He said "the majority" of abuse allegations concern incidents in the 1970s and 1980s. This fact is not intended to "excuse" the abuse or "diminish the harm done to their victims."
Rather, he said, "it does indicate that progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct."
"There is reason, even now, to be hopeful."
Between the Masses at Our Lady of Grace Church, the archbishop delivered a statement to reporters.
Archbishop Nienstedt said that when he arrived in the archdiocese seven years ago, he was told that clerical sex abuse "had been taken care of and I didn't have to worry about it."
"Unfortunately I believed that," he said. "And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did.
He told reporters that when the latest story began to break in late September, "I was as surprised as anyone else," the Star Tribune reports.
The archbishop said in his homily that he and his staff are committed to ensuring a safe environment for everyone, "especially minors and vulnerable adults" in churches, Catholic schools and other programs. They are working to reach out to victims, to regain Catholics' trust and to reassure clergy of their gratitude and that their legal and canonical rights will be safeguarded.
"With your prayer and God's grace, I believe that we will emerge from this difficult period to become a stronger, more focused, more prayerful and more purified local Church," the archbishop said.
"But the key to that process lies in our ability to remain a people of hope – hope not in our own resources, but rather hope in the person of Jesus Christ, who can make all things new."
He emphasized that the Holy Eucharist can help Catholics become "a people of action who can address past wrongs and find ways to do better in the future."
Archbishop Nienstedt said a former slave who became a canonized saint is a good intercessor for the archdiocese as it works to address sex abuse.
St. Josephine Bakta, born in Sudan, was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery. She was abused emotionally and flogged every day until she bled. After an Italian merchant bought her and brought her to Venice, she came to know a "good and kind and loving" master, Jesus Christ.
Through encountering Jesus, she learned "that she was loved and that she was a free child of God."
"For the first time in her life, she became a woman of hope," the archbishop said. As a religious sister she spent the rest of her life sharing this hope with others.