After backlash, Archbishop Nienstedt leaving Michigan parish

| January 21, 2016 | 17 Comments
Archbishop John Nienstedt in an undated Catholic Spirit file photo. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop John Nienstedt in an undated Catholic Spirit file photo. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Following complaints by some Catholics and leaders of an organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse, Archbishop John Nienstedt is leaving a temporary position with a parish in Battle Creek, Michigan, the parish’s pastor announced in a Jan. 21 letter.

“After discussion with the archbishop conveying the expressed concerns by the faithful people of our community, he offered to withdraw from the diocese and I agreed,” wrote Father John Fleckenstein, pastor of St. Philip Catholic Church in Battle Creek, to the area’s Catholics. “Archbishop Nienstedt has a deep concern for the Church, and in light of the unintended discord that his presence was causing, he decided that this would be the best course of action so the Church can remain focused on its mission.”

Father Fleckenstein announced Archbishop Nienstedt’s arrival to the parish Jan. 10 in his parish’s bulletin. He noted that the archbishop would be assisting him with some pastoral ministries for about six months, which would allow the pastor to complete projects for the Diocese of Kalamazoo and attend to some health issues. He said he has known Archbishop Nienstedt for 20 years, since the archbishop was pastor of a parish in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Archbishop Nienstedt resigned as leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in June following the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office’s filing of criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese alleging the archdiocese had not protected children in the case of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest. Bishop Lee Piché, an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, resigned the same day. On the day of his resignation, Archbishop Nienstedt said he stepped down because his “leadership has unfortunately drawn away from the good works of [Christ’s] Church and those who perform them.”

Following the announcement that Archbishop Nienstedt would be temporarily assisting Father Fleckenstein, some Battle Creek-area Catholics, as well as leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), publicly raised concerns about nature of the criminal and civil charges, as well as an allegation made in 2013 that he had inappropriately touched a boy’s buttocks during a group photo in 2009. Archbishop Nienstedt denied the allegation and stepped aside from ministry while it was investigated. Ramsey County did not file charges, and the archdiocese’s investigation found the claim to be unsubstantiated.

“A very regrettable circumstance of Archbishop Nienstedt’s presence within our community has been anger and fear,” Father Fleckenstein wrote in the Jan. 21 letter. “I’m proud of the good works of our parishes and our Catholic schools as well as our valuable place in our community. I wish for us to continue growing and striving. My hope is that we can move forward together.”

He said he wished Archbishop Nienstedt well and that “I know many of you do as well.” He also said that the archbishop “shared with me the deep gratitude he has for the hospitality he received from so many of our parishioners.”

In a letter published the same day to the Catholics of his diocese and especially those in Battle Creek, Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo apologized “for the hurt this situation has caused and the fears that have been raised.”

“It would never be my intention to bring harm to our beloved local Church. While I am personally convinced that at no time was anyone in danger, I acknowledge the concerns expressed,” he wrote. “I pray that with this matter now resolved, we will all be able to move forward. I want to regain your trust where that has been damaged or lost, and continue to strengthen our local Church here in the Diocese of Kalamazoo.”

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  • Charles C.

    So much for the Year of Mercy.

    No sane, informed, person believes that the Archbishop improperly touched that boy. The other accusations are incredibly weak, almost to the point of irrelevance.

    The hatred for the Archbishop can’t possibly come from those feeble “almost charges,” so where does it come from? He was strongly and publicly supportive of the Church’s positions on homosexuality, gay marriage, and the Eucharist. That was enough to drive certain groups and individuals blind with rage.

    So, it’s the Year of Mercy for those you support, and the Year of Condemnation for those with different beliefs? Nice going. You’ve got to be impressed by the successes those hate-filled groups and individuals are having. Disgusted, but impressed that a few haters can tear down a good and holy man.

    God protect us and Your Church.

  • Isabel Sinton

    Nienstedt does not understand that Kiddie Porn is insulting, dangerous and, yes, even a sin AND priests under his supervision should NOT be sneakily taking crotch shot pictures of little girls. When Nienstedt’s priests are caught red handed, the police should be called. He is trying to distract by pointing to Gay Marriage and ‘Christian Values’.

    • They were called.

    • cyndy419

      No such thing!

  • SNAPJudy

    Thankfully the parishioners stood their ground and got Neinstedt
    removed. As long as corrupt priests/bishops are allowed to continue performing
    priestly activities, they still have their power and could be a danger to the
    vulnerable. The church officials were contradicting themselves when they said,
    “the Diocese of Kalamazoo is committed to providing safe environments for all

    Neinstedt needs to be defrocked.

    Judy Jones,
    636-433-2511., SNAP
    (Survivors Network of those Abused by

    • Why?

    • cyndy419

      Who said? Archbishop Neinstedt is very,very devoted -he does not need to be defrocked!

    • Armchair Canon Lawyer

      What’s the obsession with misspelling his Excellency’s name?

  • Charles C.

    The responses pretty much prove my point.

    In no particular order:

    There is nothing showing that the Archbishop committed any wrongful act. The allegations are that he failed to perform a needed act. The idea that he poses a danger to anyone in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, or anywhere in the country, is based on nothing but angry hysteria. I know I sound harsh, but I can find no other reason for the lynch mob mentality.

    The criminal charges, which have yet to be proved, are misdemeanors. And what has he or the Archdiocese been convicted of yet? Nothing.

    “I have never knowingly covered up clergy sexual abuse,” Archbishop Nienstedt wrote. “I have, however, been too trusting of our internal process and not as hands-on as I could have been in matters of priest misconduct.”

    Defrock an Archbishop for that? Maybe the people who are out to destroy the Archbishop should follow the example of the Director of SNAP, David Clohessy.

    “But when Clohessy was working for SNAP in the 1990s, he refused to contact the authorities when he learned of a man who was sexually abusing young men. That man was his brother, Kevin, a Catholic priest.
    Feeling conflicted, David wondered, “He’s my brother; he’s an abuser. Do I treat him like my brother? Do I treat him like an abuser?” He chose the former. “He [Kevin] told me he was getting help, getting treatment.”
    This is understandable. What is not understandable is his outrage at bishops when they voice the same sentiment about their brother priests.”

  • cyndy419

    Why persecute Archbishop Niendtadt? As some pointed out, year of Mercy in 2016-how about showing some of it-a great deal. Our former Archbishop has be through WAY too much-first leave MN;the out of MI-

  • Sosyermama

    In the spirit of the Year of Mercy…Jesus gave St. Peter a chance to reform and restore his life so why aren’t we more like Him? Do we pray for our clergy as we should?

  • Constance

    The Twin Cities populace of very liberal, left leaning people were out to get Archbishop Nienstedt from his correct stance regarding the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage, abortion and any other issue they wished to dispute. Many so-called Catholics were also in that liberal category. Archbishop Nienstedt was very wrong in not heeding advice about Wehmeyer’s previous wrongful actions and he has suffered mightily from that bad judgement. Let’s pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness for the man and stop the persecution.

  • Sadly I believe that he was sometimes unmerciful to many of this Archdiocese during his tenure here in the Twin Cities. I am not suggesting he broke any laws but he broke the spirits of many who needed his support. Our sins follow us–mine certainly do. Why should that be less true of pastors and leaders of the Church?

    • Charles C.

      Please forgive my confusion, but I’m not sure of your meaning. It seems that you’re saying that he was very kind to you, and did nothing illegal, but that he definitely sinned. (And his sin was . . .?) Do I understand that the objection is that he wasn’t merciful enough and that his insufficient mercy depressed some of the people in the Archdiocese? What form did this take? Did he refuse Absolution to people who were sincerely repentant of their sins? I hadn’t heard about that.

      Again, I may be wrong, but the impression which your politely vague note leaves is that people who were in homosexual relationships wanted his acceptance and support. He then condemned those activities, and encouraged people to vote against state recognition of homosexual marriage. This, no doubt, discouraged people in such relationships. Did it break their spirit? Maybe, if we can have a clear understanding of what that means. In cases like those, maybe broken spirits are a good thing, a prerequisite to repentance.

      Is that what your calling a sin? I hope not, because the Church doesn’t.

      I’m also confused by the penalty you wish to impose. Assume, for the purpose of argument, that the Archbishop committed a sin. (By the way, are you calling for all priests who have sinned to resign their duties for a period of time?) Archbishop Nienstedt believes he’s ready to assume light duties in Michigan. The Bishop of Kalamazoo believes he’s ready to assume light duties, the pastor of St. Philip Catholic Church believes he’s ready to assume light duties.

      But Richard G. Evans believes he’s not ready? And Richard G. Evans’ complaint is that the Archbishop sometimes didn’t show mercy? I hope Richard G. Evans will inform the Bishop of Kalamazoo when Archbishop Nienstedt is ready to resume priestly duties.

      In all seriousness, Richard G Evans, I hope to High Heaven that I misunderstand you. Please clarify and correct me where I’ve been wrong. I don’t want to be left with the impression I have.

      • I deleted my comment. I probably should not have gotten into this conversation either way. I pray for him daily. I hope you do as well. Nor did I even mention homosexuality. Most of your impressions are wrong. God bless.

      • rge

        I deleted my comment. I think your impression of what I said was wrong. I probably should have not gotten into this thread anyway, and I did not even mention homosexuality, nor did I disagree with his stance on it. I simply gave an opinion about the wisdom of waiting to minister, but you are right, it is not my call, and it was not a complaint. God bless. Leaving it there.

        • Charles C.

          Dear RGE,

          Thank you, you have made me very happy. As I said, I hoped I misunderstood you, and I’m glad to see that I did.

          RGE, I write a lot to a variety of audiences. I’m always grateful when someone tells me that they don’t understand what I meant, or that they have gained a different impression from my words than they were meant to convey. That helps sharpen my thinking and my writing.

          You have a good heart and I hope you take this in the same spirit with which I take comments on my writing.

          My confusion remains. You say that there were very public issues which he did not handle well enough to be effective here. What I take that to mean is that after the Father Wehmeyer scandal, the Archbishop was not supported by the people of the Archdiocese, and was more or less forced to resign.

          An Archdiocesan report issued at the end of 2003 said there was credible evidence to believe that 69 children had been abused by priests in the Archdiocese during the previous 50 years (1954 – 2003). During that time, the Archdiocese has had 22 Bishops.

          Just looking for a couple of opinions now. Do you think that Archbishop Nienstedt’s treatment has been roughly equivalent to the treatment of the other, nearly two dozen bishops? If he was treated differently, why do you think that might be? (At least half a dozen bishops are still alive.)

          Ooops, one more opinion, please. Given his reception in Michigan ( which a national organization helped to organize and which later declared as a victory) will he ever be allowed to minister anywhere, regardless of the state of his soul?

          I don’t intend this to be an attack of any sort. I wanted to let you know how your writing struck me, and to let you know that I value your opinion on these matters.