By Maria Wiering
Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Pope Francis accepted the resignations June 15 of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche of St. Paul and Minneapolis and named coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, New Jersey, a canon lawyer, to be apostolic administrator of the Minnesota archdiocese.
In a statement, Archbishop Nienstedt said he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis "to give the archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face."
"The Catholic Church is not our church, but Christ’s church, and we are merely stewards for a time," he said. "My leadership has unfortunately drawn away from the good works of his church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down."
On June 5, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese alleging it failed to protect three boys who were sexually abused in 2008-2010 by Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest of the archdiocese.
Wehmeyer was convicted of the abuse and is serving a five-year prison sentence. He was dismissed from the priesthood in March.
Archbishop Nienstedt, 68, was appointed coadjutor archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2007, and installed as its archbishop in June 2008, succeeding Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, who retired.
Previously, Archbishop Nienstedt was bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, from 2001 to 2007, and auxiliary bishop of Detroit from 1996 to 2001.
Bishop Piche, 57, was ordained as an auxiliary for St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2009.
Archbishopd Hebda plans to serve both the Minnesota and Newark archdioceses until Pope Francis names Archbishop Nienstedt’s successor.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed in January for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code amid mounting claims of clergy sexual abuse. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature lifted the civil statute of limitations on claims of child sexual abuse for a three-year period.
In May, the archdiocese announced that it would sell archdiocesan offices, including the archbishop’s residence, as part of the reorganization.
Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, welcomed the resignations. But she said that "one or two or three small steps doesn’t erase decades of complicity," and added that Pope Francis’ "public relations advisers are trying hard to burnish his imagine prior to his U.S. trip."
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