St. Paul, Minn., Jun 15, 2015 / 07:43 am America/Denver (CNA).
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the archbishop and an auxiliary bishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, less than two weeks after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.
However, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt says although he is stepping down, his conscience is clear with regard to the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse.
“My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them,” said Archbishop Nienstedt in a June 15 statement on the archdiocese website, explaining his reasons for stepping down.
The prelate explained that he submitted his resignation to allow the archdiocese to have “a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face.”
The Holy See issued a statement on Monday announcing that the resignations of Archbishop Nienstedt and auxiliary bishop Lee A. Piché had been accepted.
On June 5, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was charged with six counts of failing to protect minors, specifically with regard to the actions of the now-former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who is currently serving a five year prison sentence for sexually abusing two minors and possession of child pornography. In March, Pope Francis issued a decree to permanently bar Wehmeyer from exercising priestly ministry and from presenting himself as a priest.
Despite the charges facing the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Nienstedt maintained that he and others worked to prevent sexual abuse.
“I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” he writes.
Archbishop Nienstedt served as the leading prelate of the Twin Cities archdiocese for seven years.
“The Catholic Church is not our Church, but Christ’s Church, and we are merely stewards for a time,” he said.
In order to temporarily fill the vacant position of archbishop, the Pope has appointed Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda as apostolic administrator.
Echoing the words of Archbishop Nienstedt in a statement, Archbishop Hebda, who until now had served as coadjutor archbishop of Newark, reiterated that the Church belongs to Christ.
“Our loving God frequently finds ways to remind us that even those who exercise leadership in the Church do so as laborers and not as the Master Builder: the Church is not ours but Christ’s,” he said.
Archbishop Hebda also cited the upcoming Year of Mercy as he embarks on his new position in the archdiocese.
“I look forward to getting to know this local Church and experiencing in a new context the marvelous ways in which the Lord works through His people to make His grace and healing presence known and felt, even in the most challenging of times,” he said.
Bishop Piché also issued a statement on the website of the archdiocese.
“The people of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign,” he said.
“I submitted my resignation willingly, after consultation with others in and outside the Archdiocese.”