Archbishop John Nienstedt to apologize at Edina church
By Raya Zimmerman and Dave Orrick
Archbishop John Nienstedt, who has faced public criticism following the revelation of sexual abuse cases in his archdiocese, is expected to apologize Sunday at an Edina church.
Nienstedt’s plan to deliver the homily at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Parish comes roughly two weeks after a Ramsey County judge ordered the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release a list of 34 priests “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children in decades prior.
“I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better,” Nienstedt wrote in the homily, which was posted on Our Lady of Grace’s website (olgparish.org/homilies/3rd-sunday-advent).
Nienstedt, the church’s top official, and the archdiocese have been under scrutiny since the fall. Spurred by a whistleblower, Minnesota Public Radio and other media began reporting failures by the institution in dealing with clergy who sexually abused children, including allegations of cover-ups.
“The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local Church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry,” according to an advance copy of the remarks.
He wrote that only one of the crimes against minors has happened in his archdiocese since 2002, which he said is “one too many.”
The list of 34 priests dates to 1950. It includes at least one priest from 92 of the archdiocese’s 188 parishes.
Neinstedt has said that a review of clergy files is ongoing, and a Ramsey County judge has ordered names of priests credibly accused since 2004 to be disclosed by Jan. 6.
A former Our Lady of Grace priest, Rev. Jerome Kern, was sued earlier this month by a man in his 50s who said Kern abused him when he was 12 to 16 years old.
Kern was accused in a 1993 lawsuit of abusing a 12-year-old boy, although Kern never was charged with a crime.
“The majority of those allegations go back to the 1970s and 1980s,” according to Nienstedt’s homily. “Again, that is not to excuse those actions or diminish the harm done to their victims. But it does indicate that progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct. There is reason, even now, to be hopeful.”
The string of allegations started when top archdiocese officials failed to report possible criminal activity to police regarding former Mahtomedi priest Jonathan Shelley’s computer and did not alert law enforcement or parishioners to a St. Paul priest who exhibited “troublesome” sexual behavior. The priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, later was convicted of molesting two boys.
The unfolding scandal featured the St. Paul police in October publicly appealing for victims to come forward. That followed a reopening of an investigation into allegations that the Rev. Jonathan Shelley possessed child pornography on a computer he owned in 2004. Shelley denied the allegation, and the case was closed Sept. 29 after discs turned over to police by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contained only adult porn.
Police reopened the case a few days later when a Hugo parishioner turned over files to police, which he said he had copied from Shelley’s hard drive.
Calls for Nienstedt to resign began to be heard, and some priests sharply criticized the archdiocesan leadership. In November, some 150 people marched on Cathedral Hill in St. Paul demanding he step down.
Over the past three months, Nienstedt wrote in his homily, he and his staff have worked to ensure safe environments in their churches, schools and religious programs, “especially minors and vulnerable adults.” He wrote that they have been committed to reaching out to victims and regaining the trust and reassurance of Catholics and clergy.
He will be presiding over the 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. mass at Our Lady of Grace church in Edina.
Emily Gurnon contributed to this report.