Amid calls for change, Nienstedt takes responsibility for church's response to abuse

Archbishop John Nienstedt
Archbishop John Nienstedt blesses a crowd gathered to discuss immigration reform in September 2013.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Archbishop John Nienstedt said Wednesday he accepts responsibility for addressing the unfolding clergy sexual abuse crisis and regrets that a growing number of parishioners and priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have "lost confidence" in him.

Nienstedt's remarks came in an e-mailed response to questions from MPR News. It's the first time he has answered questions since reports about clergy misconduct in the archdiocese first surfaced in September.

• Full coverage: Archdiocese under scrutiny

Two priests have suggested a change in leadership at the archdiocese is necessary in light of the revelations. It's hard to say if the opinions of these priests are more widely held and whether they'll have any impact.

Several other diocesan priests have not returned calls to discuss how the archdiocese is handling the situation. Others have said they would prefer not to comment. But some are suggesting that if two priests are publicly calling for a change, several more are privately discussing it. The key question is whether such discussions have much impact since the Catholic Church isn't run as a democracy.

There is really only one person who can make dramatic changes in a diocese's leadership or accept the resignation of a bishop — and that's Pope Francis. But reaction from priests and those in the pews can play a role. Criticism from priests and parishioners was one of the driving factors that forced Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law to resign in 2002 during the clergy sex abuse scandal there. One of the other major factors there was finances — there were hundreds of lawsuits brought by victims of sexual abuse — and parishioners declined to contribute money to the archdiocese in the wake of the scandal.

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