Minnesota Catholics: Is the Church a Criminal or are there Criminals in the Church?
In Minnesota, Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piche have resigned after a devastating criminal complaint against the Archdiocese by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi showed the roles of both men in the protection of Curtis Wehmeyer, a defrocked priest now spending five years in prison for sexual abuse of young males. The criminal complaint against the Archdiocese for an "institutional and systemic pattern of behavior" sets the stage for civil procedures to interfere with self-governance by the Church. The one defense the Church could mount as an institution is that these were crimes of individuals. The Church as a system and institution is built on a purity code of fatherly and fraternal love which was severely abused and undermined by the last three Archbishops and their Vicars General. It is not our purity code, or our system of a hierarchical celibate male clergy, which is the problem. The problem was a corruption of our purity code and the brotherhood of fathers. This corruption was similar to mob takeovers of labor unions; and the mobsters all have names. The men involved clearly were not carrying out the mission of the Church to be good shepherds and fathers as they acted more like a protection racket among hirelings. If there was a man among them, he would ask that the prosecutor redirect the charges against himself as an errant churchman and not against the Church herself. The resignation by Archbishop Nienstedt did not hint that he would consider protecting Mother Church by shifting the blame upon himself. He didn't start his public ritual with the Confiteor. He assured all assembled that he left with a clear conscience.
The resignation of Bishop Lee Piche along with Nienstedt implies the Vatican request for resignations was a direct result of the criminal complaint which implicated Piche more greviously than revealed before. Some bishop or the papal nuncio for the U.S. must have gotten word to the Vatican that this required immediate action. Nienstedt has said repeatedly he would not resign unless asked by superiors. The priests of the archdiocese gathered in Rochester, Minnesota, at the biannual presbyteral assembly from Monday June 15 to Thursday June 18. Bishop Nienstedt wrote to the priests: "I would have preferred to share this with you in person, but the desire of the Holy See to announce this made it impossible to wait."
One welcome 'Pope Francis effect' has emerged very clearly. There are mechanisms emerging whereby bishops of a nation or the nuncios can communicate to Vatican authorities a problem with a local bishop and an effective timely process for removal is now in place. The criminal indictment was issued on June 5. Their resignations came June 15. This incredible shrinkage of response time bodes well for the future.