Tuesday 21 November 2017

US bishops resign amid charges archdiocese protected pedophile priest

Bishop John Nienstedt resigned amid charges the archdiocese failed to protect children from a sexually abusive priest Credit: Rick Wilking
Bishop John Nienstedt resigned amid charges the archdiocese failed to protect children from a sexually abusive priest Credit: Rick Wilking

Isla Binnie

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.

The pontiff accepted the resignations the week after approving an unprecedented Vatican tribunal intended to judge bishops for covering up or failing to report sexual abuse, which has caused worldwide scandal for more than a decade.

Read More: Cardinal denies he tried to buy the silence of abuse victim

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.

He is also awaiting trial on charges of assaulting a third child.

Read More: Pope's finance chief promises to appear at Australian child abuse inquiry

Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, an independent group that helps tackle the issue in the Catholic Church, said the resignations were "disgracefully overdue".

"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.

Read More: School teacher executed in China for raping 26 girls

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called for a detailed investigation of the alleged cover-up.

"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.


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