Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced his resignation Monday, 10 days after Ramsey County filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from an abusive priest.
In a statement, Nienstedt said he was stepping down to give the archdiocese "a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face," noting his leadership was drawing attention away from the church.
Nienstedt added, "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."
Nienstedt has been the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis since 2008, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piché also announced his resignation Monday, saying in a statement, "The people of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign."
Both resignations have been accepted by Pope Francis.
They resigned under the code of canon law, which allows bishops to resign before they retire because of illness or another "grave" reason that makes them unfit for their position, The Associated Press notes.
Nienstedt is one of a handful of American bishops who have resigned in the wake of clergy sex abuse scandals, MPR News reports.
Survivors speak out
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had previously called for Nienstedt's resignation over the way he handled clergy abuse allegations. In a statement Monday, the organization called this move a "a tiny but belated step forward," adding Nienstedt "should be punished for enabling a predator to hurt kids."
"This coverup is longstanding, widespread and clearly documented. What wasn't caused by one or two clerics won't be fixed by the removal of one or two clerics," David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, said, according to MPR News.
Frank Meuers, the southern Minnesota leader for SNAP, told KSTP Pope Francis must start defrocking clerics who cover up the crimes, not just the priests who commit the crimes.
What's next for the archdiocese
It's not known when a new archbishop will be appointed. Pope Francis named Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda to serve as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a new residential archbishop is appointed, the National Catholic Reporter says.
In a letter on the archdiocese's website, Most Rev. Hebda, wrote he will help "facilitate the smooth continuation of the ordinary and essential activities of the Church" in the interim. Adding:
"It is my hope that I might be able to be faithful to that vision so that whenever a new Archbishop is appointed, he will find in this local Church a vibrant community of missionary disciples that is growing in its knowledge of the love of Jesus and in its shared commitment to the Gospel."
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens spoke at a news conference Monday saying "this has been a painful process," but notes it is an opportunity to move forward, pledging to bring the archdiocese "into a new day."
He added, "We will continue to do all that we can to create safe environments for all children."
The criminal charges filed earlier this month against the archdiocese relate to its handling of the case of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former St. Paul priest who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys. Prosecutors say the archdiocese "turned a blind eye" to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by the priest.
Earlier this year, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy amid the numerous abuse allegations against priests.