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At Sunday mass, Nienstedt apologizes, says he 'overlooked' clergy abuse

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Archbishop John Nienstedt
Archbishop John Nienstedt talks to the media at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Minn. on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Nienstedt is asking Catholics for forgiveness, saying he's sorry that he's overlooked the issue of clergy sex abuse. Nienstedt delivered his apology during two Masses at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina, saying parishioners justifiably feel indignation and deserve better.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP

Archbishop John Nienstedt has started addressing the clergy sex abuse scandal head on, telling parishioners and the media Sunday that he's sorry he overlooked issues of abuse among parish priests.  

Nienstedt said mass at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina. He told parishioners and reporters after mass that he was told the issue of clergy sex abuse was taken care of when he became archbishop seven years ago. 

• Investigation: Archdiocese under scrutiny

"Unfortunately I believed that and so my biggest apology today, and I did this last week at two other parishes, is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it more than I did," Nienstedt said.

Video: More of Nienstedt's comments:

Neinstedt did not take any questions. 

This month, Nienstedt released a list of 30 priests who the archdiocese says have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. The list also includes four others who have unsubstantiated allegations against them. Nienstedt also ordered an independent review of the clergy file to ensure no others abusers are in ministry. 

The actions come after an MPR News investigation found that church leaders -- including Nienstedt -- protected abusive priests during their tenure. Nienstedt also assigned a priest to a parish despite his sexual addiction and interest in younger men. Curtis Wehmeyer is now in prison for sexually abusing two boys. Nienstedt says he had no idea that Wehmeyer would have been a danger to children. 

MIXED REACTIONS TO STATEMENT

After mass, several parishioners were pleased Nienstedt came to their church to discuss the issue of clergy sex abuse. Terry Colleran of Edina called Nienstedt's homily a "deep-felt apology."

"He would like to reconcile with those offended. I wish the people offended would come forward with the same spirit and reconcile. We're all sorry. We know they've been offended. We're angry and we're embarrassed," Colleran said.

Darryl Dixon said he's hoping the fallout from the scandal will keep church leaders vigilant. 

"It's a scary thing. We all have kids. You worry about your kids and you don't want to ever see anything like that happening. I hope going forward that this will be a reminder to us that we need to stay on top of things," Dixon said.

Others said Nienstedt should have been more forthcoming. Troy Selzer of Edina said Nienstedt is more worried about protecting his image. He said Nienstedt should have disclosed all of the information sooner. 

"This type of Nixonian cover-up can't be replicated in the Catholic Church. We have turned off way too many congregants," Selzer said.

Church officials say Nienstedt has been discussing the issue with parish priests and parishioners for weeks. But Sunday's appearance is the most visible he's been since the issue first surfaced in September. 

His decision to speak at Our Lady of Grace comes at a critical time for area churches since Christmas is a top fundraising period. Our Lady of Grace historically gives the most of any parish to the Catholic Services Appeal -- a collection that helps cover the general operating budget of the archdiocese. 

And while many say they appreciate Nienstedt's action, one parish priest says it's not enough. Fr. Michael Tegeder, who has called on Nienstedt to resign, said Nienstedt is minimizing his role in the scandal. He said the archbishop reassigned some of the priests who have been scrutinized. 

"Over the last 15 or 20 years, we have been on a learning curve about this whole issue of sexual abuse. I think we have come quite a ways on doing the right thing and providing a safe environment. But the archbishop's own actions have undermined that good work," Tegeder said. 

By Tuesday of this week, the Winona Diocese says it will release the names of 13 priests who have been credibly accused of abuse.