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US bishops resign amid charges archdiocese protected pedophile priest

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Bishop John Nienstedt, from New Ulm, Minnesota, listens to opening 
remarks during the first day of the United States Conference of
 Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas, in this file photo taken June, 13, 2002. Archbishop Nienstedt and an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned on Monday amid charges the archdiocese failed to protect children from a sexually abusive priest.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

Bishop John Nienstedt, from New Ulm, Minnesota, listens to opening remarks during the first day of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas, in this file photo taken June, 13, 2002. Archbishop Nienstedt and an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned on Monday amid charges the archdiocese failed to protect children from a sexually abusive priest. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

REUTERS

Bishop John Nienstedt, from New Ulm, Minnesota, listens to opening remarks during the first day of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas, in this file photo taken June, 13, 2002. Archbishop Nienstedt and an auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigned on Monday amid charges the archdiocese failed to protect children from a sexually abusive priest. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of two US bishops less than a week after criminal charges were filed against their diocese for failing to protect children from a sexually abusive priest.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and one of his deputies, auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche, resigned over their links to Curtis Wehmeyer.

Mr Wehmeyer, who has been dismissed from the priesthood, is serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2012 to criminal sexual conduct with two minors and possessing child pornography.

Minnesota prosecutor John Choi brought the charges against the archdiocese on June 5.

The archdiocese was charged with three misdemeanour counts of contributing to the need for protection or services for the minors who were the victims of sexual abuse and three misdemeanour counts of contributing to the minors' delinquency or status as juvenile petty offenders.

The archdiocese also faces a related civil complaint.

Hundreds of civil cases have already been filed against it for allegedly failing to supervise priests or ignoring sexual abuse by the clergy.

Prosecutor Choi described "a disturbing institutional and systemic pattern of behaviour" stretching back decades at the highest level of leadership in the archdiocese, which has 187 parishes and 90 schools.

Victims told investigators that Mr Wehmeyer gave them beer and cigarettes, showed them pornographic images and touched their genitals in a camper parked on parish grounds or while camping, according to the complaint.

"Today's news from Minnesota is a sobering reminder that the real source of accountability in the Catholic abuse crisis continues to reside outside the church," Doyle said.

"Nienstedt and Piche would still be in power if not for (Choi's) recent indictment of the archdiocese."

Mr Nienstedt said in a statement he was leaving because his leadership had "drawn attention away from the good works (of the Church)."

"I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults," he said.

Mr Piche said people of the archdiocese needed healing and hope. "I was getting in the way of that and so I had to resign," he said in a statement.

"There were dozens of Church staff who could and should have stopped many of these abusers' crimes by simply calling 911. But they protected themselves and their jobs by staying silent. They too should be ousted by the Vatican," SNAP said.

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Bernard Anthony Hebda of Newark as apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese until a new archbishop is appointed.

Reuters