Archbishop of St. Paul resigns over church sex scandal

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Archbishop John C. Nienstedt talks about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis consolidation plan, which includes closing 21 churches, at his office in St. Paul, Minn., Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig)

The archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a deputy bishop resigned Monday after prosecutors there charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect children from unspeakable harm from a pedophile priest.

The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche. They resigned under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or some other “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office.

Earlier this month, prosecutors charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a corporation of having “turned a blind eye” to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys. No individual was named in the indictment.

The resignations came just days after Pope Francis approved the creation of a new tribunal inside the Vatican to hear cases of bishops who failed to protect children from sexually abusive priests. Francis’ decision followed years of criticism that the Vatican had never held bishops accountable for having ignored warnings about abusive priests and simply moved them from parish to parish rather than report them to police or remove them from ministry.

In April, Francis accepted the resignation of U.S. bishop Robert Finn, who had been convicted in a U.S. court of failing to report a suspected child abuser.

The criminal charges against the archdiocese stem from its handling of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors say church leaders failed to respond to “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct” by Wehmeyer from the time he entered seminary until he was removed from the priesthood in 2015. The criminal complaint says many people – including parishioners, fellow priests and parish staff – reported issues with Wehmeyer, and many of those claims were discounted.

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