In a rare public appearance regarding the priest sexual misconduct scandal, Archbishop John Nienstedt is expected to address a crowded Edina church Sunday and apologize to the community.
Nienstedt, the leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, will give the homily at Our Lady of Grace Parish. According to an advance copy of his remarks, he is expected to tell parishioners: “I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better.”
The apology comes as Twin Cities Catholics confront a growing wave of allegations in recent months of priest sexual abuse and accusations that some church leaders ignored warnings of sexual misconduct.
“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,” Nienstedt wrote in the homily, which was available Saturday on some websites.
The statements follow the release last week of the names of 32 priests accused of child sex abuse — an unprecedented move in Minnesota. On Monday, the Diocese of Winona will unveil at least 13 names of accused priests, under the same Ramsey County Court order that required the Twin Cities archdiocese to release its list.
In the advance copy of the homily, Nienstedt says that a majority of the allegations against the priests named a week ago happened in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Again, that is not to excuse those actions or diminish the harm done to their victims,” Nienstedt wrote. “But it does indicate that progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct. There is reason, even now, to be hopeful.”
Nienstedt has refused repeated media requests for interviews and has mostly addressed the public about the scandal in written statements the past few months. He will be at Our Lady of Grace at the invitation of the Rev. Bob Schwartz, who said Saturday that he invites the archbishop occasionally and Nienstedt typically accepts.
“He’s committed to getting out and being among the people,” archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso said Saturday, adding that Nienstedt has attended local parishes every weekend but doesn’t always give the homily like he’s doing Sunday. “It’s a homily about hope.”
Critics of Nienstedt’s leadership, however, say the published statements fall short of taking responsibility for failed leadership in the misconduct investigations.
“I wasn’t too impressed by it; he has to talk about his own actions,” said the Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis, who has been outspoken about Nienstedt stepping down. “I think he owes us an explanation.”
But Schwartz reads the archbishop’s words differently, calling it a sincere message during a difficult time.
“I don’t think he’s hiding anything. I think he’s saying things haven’t been handled properly,” Schwartz said. “That’s pretty honest.”
Schwartz said it will be a great opportunity for the archbishop to listen to parishioners and he admires Nienstedt for addressing the parish even if it means hearing from angry parishioners.
“I give him a lot of credit for coming out and being here,” he said. “He’s trying to do what needs to be done.”
Nienstedt will preside over the 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. masses; Schwartz said it likely will be packed at the church, which seats 1,000. More than 2,500 families and individuals are members of the parish.
Despite the “unwanted media attention,” Nienstedt said he’s hopeful for the church’s future. He noted in the homily that he and his staff have worked to ensure that people, especially children and vulnerable adults, are safe in Catholic churches and schools, have reached out to victims to help with their healing and worked to regain the Catholic community’s trust.
“With your prayer and God’s grace,” he wrote, “I believe that we will emerge from this difficult period to become a stronger, more focused, more prayerful and more purified local Church.”
His words, however, offer little reconciliation for lifelong Catholic Wayne Hergott of Edina, who agrees that the community needs to try to heal, but doesn’t believe Nienstedt is the right person to do that.
“I take no glee in saying it,” said Hergott, who attends Christ the King Church in south Minneapolis. “I’m sad it’s come to this, but I believe the archbishop has been divisive. It’s too late to be the conciliator of the people of the archdiocese.”