A Minnesota archbishop who was forced to resign when his diocese faced criminal and civil charges related to sexual abuse by clergy has been appointed assistant priest at a church in Michigan.
Saint Philip Roman Catholic church in Kalamazoo announced this week that it had appointed former St Paul and Minneapolis archbishop John Nienstedt to assist the parish while its head pastor dealt with medical issues.
Nienstedt resigned in June 2015, days after Ramsey County attorney John Choi filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese. Choi alleged at the time that the archdiocese “time and time again turned a blind eye” to clerical sex abuse. It was the first time a US archdiocese had faced such charges in a decade.
The civil suit was settled in December, but the criminal charges are pending in county court.
Pastor John Fleckenstein of Saint Philip Roman Catholic church in Battle Creek, Michigan, announced that Nienstedt would be assisting him in a church bulletin on 10 January.
He said he had brought in Nienstedt “to assist in various pastoral ministries” while the pastor deals with health issues. “He will celebrate some of the weekend and weekday masses, visit the sick in the hospital, visit the sick and homebound, and celebrate mass for the nursing home and assisted living facilities,” Fleckenstein said.
Fleckenstein did not respond to a request for comment.
Nienstedt’s appointment was revealed by Jennifer Haselberger, the former top lawyer for the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, who published the church bulletin on her blog.
Haselberger resigned from her post in April 2013 because she said the archdiocese was mishandling accusations of sex abuse by clergy.
She became a whistleblower after advising the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis not to hire priest Curtis Wehmeyer because of his file, which included an evaluation from a treatment center for clergy with sexual disorders. Wehmeyer was still appointed and Haselberger contacted law enforcement.
“For us here in the Twin Cities, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s a win for us, he’s leaving, which is what a lot of people have always wanted, at least temporarily, and hopefully the costs of living will be shunted onto Kalamazoo and not us, at least for a period of time,” Haselberger told the Guardian.
But she said what is good for the Twin Cities was not necessarily what was good for the church in general or the people of Kalamazoo. “The archdiocese is facing criminal charges for the way it acted during his administration, so that also raises questions about his fitness to be in a position of authority in a parish, even if it’s limited authority,” Haselberger said.
She said that the fact Nienstedt was able to find work at another church was symptomatic of his not facing consequences or penalties after he resigned.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (Snap) called on Pope Francis to reverse the decision and asked Michigan bishops to denounce Nienstedt’s appointment.
“Shame on Kalamazoo Bishop Paul Bradley, Twin Cities Archbishop Bernard Hebda and on every single Catholic priest, employee and parishioner who silently approves or accepts this dangerous decision without protest,” Snap said in a statement.
“This is a key reason clergy sex crimes, misdeeds and cover ups continue in the church: because those who commit these heinous acts are still usually protected – and sometimes promoted – regardless of how much harm they cause.”
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