It is clear that we did not always handle abuse complaints as we should have, but I take responsibility for leading our local church to a new and better day.
To say that this has been a difficult year is quite an understatement. Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Catholics have witnessed many troubling media reports, and many of us have had difficult conversations with friends and family about what it means to be Catholic and why we still profess the faith. I, myself, have been the subject of two investigations, which have brought with them more public scrutiny. I have received messages calling me a hypocrite, a domineering boss and a liar. Others have written that I am a courageous moral leader and a true shepherd. I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write.
In the end, it comes down to this: Eighteen years ago, Pope John Paul II chose me to serve the church as a bishop, an authentic successor of the Apostles. A bishop’s role is more like that of a father of a family than that of a CEO. I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here. I have acknowledged my responsibility in the current crisis we face, and I also take responsibility for leading our archdiocese to a new and better day.
I can only speak for myself and my actions, not the words or actions of others. Over the last year, I have re-examined the words I have spoken and the actions I have, or have not, taken, and I want to share this:
(1) I have created a new leadership team that operates under the philosophy of “Victims First.”
I have empowered a new team of bishops, parish and religious order priests, archdiocesan employees, lay Catholics and non-Catholics to assist me and provide consultation. They continually operate from the perspective of how we can best help victims of sexual abuse and their families. To make sure we retain this focus, I am hiring a new victims’ liaison, a lay professional who will serve as a continuous voice for victims on my consultation team. We have reached out to survivors of sexual abuse and have asked them to share their advice and insight as we continue addressing the recommendations made by the Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force. “Victims First” has become more than a philosophy; it has become standard operating procedure.
(2) I have never knowingly covered up clergy sexual abuse.
I have, however, been too trusting of our internal process. Since the completion of the independent internal review of all our clergy files, I have removed several clergy members from active ministry and have publicly named them while we await review of their files by the police and the archdiocese’s Clergy Review Board. While it is very clear that we did not handle all complaints the way we should have in the past, we are now doing all we can to make sure that we are living up to our commitment to be accountable and transparent, and we are, in fact, providing safe environments for our children.
(3) I have always been honest with the Catholics of this local church.
I have addressed the accusations against me head-on, following all the protocols we have in place for all of our priests. I have asked for the recent investigation because I had nothing to hide and wanted to be vindicated from false allegations, as anyone would. I have been a priest for more than 40 years. I have no doubt that my administrative and personal style, with its strong point of view, may have offended some. I apologize to those I have hurt.
I am sorry for the distractions I have inadvertently caused that have taken the focus away from the challenging and rewarding work we do as the Catholic Church in our local community. We must continue to address head-on the terrible scandal of clerical sexual abuse. The challenges are there, to be sure, but we are more ready to tackle them now than at any time in our history. I regret that some have lost their confidence in me. I hope ultimately to win back that trust. As the shepherd of the local Catholic Church, I promise to make changes in what we do so that we can see more clearly the work of God in our lives and grow closer to His Beloved Son and Our Savior, Jesus Christ.
John C. Nienstedt is archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A longer version of this essay was published last week in The Catholic Spirit.
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