Under the banner headline "To heal church, Nienstedt must go," the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday called for the resignation of embattled St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt.
Signs abound that the leadership crisis sparked by priest abuse of children in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has come to a breaking point. Consider these developments just this month:
• A judge in St. Paul -- a city whose history and culture are inseparable from the Roman Catholic Church -- refused to set aside a lawsuit's claim that the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona had created a public nuisance with their handling of abusive priests. District Judge John Van de North said he is seeking more information on that charge as he allowed a suit to go forward on claims of negligence.
• An affidavit by former archdiocesan canon law chancellor Jennifer Haselberger reported a "cavalier attitude about the safety of other people's children" at the archdiocese's top levels, leading to lax investigations and continued priestly service by suspected abusers. Haselberger resigned from her post in 2013 because, she said, she could no longer work for an organization that was not fully cooperating with an investigation of illegal activity within it.
• The archdiocese confirmed to the Star Tribune that Archbishop John Nienstedt is the subject of a months long investigation of sexual misconduct with seminarians, priests and other men.
• Minnesota Public Radio aired an hour long documentary, "Betrayed by Silence," detailing how three St. Paul/Minneapolis archbishops -- Nienstedt and his predecessors John R. Roach and Harry Flynn -- ignored or downplayed evidence and, until this year, concealed the names of priests credibly accused of molesting children.
• An editorial in the New York Times said that if Pope Francis is serious about holding bishops accountable for the abuse scandal that has rocked the church, a "good place to start" would be St. Paul and Minneapolis, with the removal of Nienstedt.
The editorial went on:
Today, with sadness, this newspaper joins that call. For the sake of one of this state's most valued institutions and the Minnesotans whose lives it touches, Nienstedt's service at the archdiocese should end now.
It will take months, and maybe years, for legal and ecclesiastical proceedings to sort out the charges that have been leveled by Haselberger and others who've been wronged by the church and its leaders. Those cases should go forward with care and diligence. Minnesotans deserve assurance that in this state, justice is available even when "the least of these" fall prey to people entrusted with power.
But the continued presence of the embattled Nienstedt in the chancery increases the likelihood that those matters will impede the work of the church in the larger community. Deservedly or not, Nienstedt has become the face of a coverup that has put children in harm's way. His credibility is in tatters. The archdiocese needs a different leader — a reformer — to have a reasonable chance of restoring its damaged reputation and sustaining its service to the community.
The paper explained its prior reluctance to make the move despite months of church turbulence stemming from Nienstedt's mishandling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, including charges of the cover-up of abusers, saying: "We've been hesitant to make this call until now for two reasons. We consider it presumptuous for a secular news organization to advise a church about internal matters. And just two years ago, the Star Tribune Editorial Board and Nienstedt openly quarreled about the ballot question that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage in this state. Although that disagreement is unrelated to today's call for Nienstedt to depart, we know some readers will question our motivation."
Read the rest over at the Star Tribune.