After years of revelations about the failure of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of priests – which ultimately led to criminal charges being filed against the Archdiocese – Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche have resigned.
The criminal charges against the Archdiocese were filed earlier this month. The Associated Press reported that church leaders failed to protect children from unspeakable harm and “turned a blind eye” to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys.
Very few bishops have left their positions over charges of sexual abuse cover-up. Nienstedt and Piche’s resignations might stem from pressure exerted by a new tribunal at the Vatican recently approved by Pope Francis that is aimed at holding bishops accountable who fail to deal with abusers. On the same day the church accepted the resignations of the Minneapolis bishops, it also announced separately that former Vatican ambassador Jozef Wesolowski would be indicted on charges of sexually abusing minors and possessing child pornography. He will be the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to stand trial for a sex crime.
The Vatican should be commended for taking steps to remove bishops and priests who are complicit in the sexual abuse of children. However I question why it has taken so long, and why high profile members of the church – Bishop Robert W. Flynn of Kansas City, Cardinal George Pell of Melbourne, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium immediately come to mind, all proven to have covered up sex-abuse cases – still remain in high-level positions of authority within the church? I also continue to be critical of the Vatican’s refusal to refuse to release church records that could implicate predator priests, many whom remain serving in the church today.
The criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and accepting the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche are only a small step forward. For decades officials in the Church have effectively facilitated sexual predators through their policies of feigned ignorance, hiding priests, denials, and outright lies.
If the Vatican is serious about ending the plague of sexual abuse in its ranks, it needs to open its records and make it known that anyone in the church who knowingly sheltered or protected a sexual predator will eventually be held criminally accountable.