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Catholic group to rally, call for Nienstedt's ouster

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An organization of Catholics is set to rally Saturday to call for the ouster of Archbishop John Nienstedt, the Star Tribune reports.

Planning for the rally outside the Cathedral of St. Paul was prompted by a rising level of criticism of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for alleged coverups of sexual abuse by priests. Since May, at least 19 lawsuits have been filed against Catholic clergy in Minnesota.

The Saturday protest is being organized by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

“We can’t heal until the divisive figure is gone, and Archbishop Nienstedt is the divisive figure himself,” said Paula Ruddy, of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, the Star Tribune reported. "Until then, we have no hope."

Nienstedt has denied any coverups and has said he is taking a number of steps to regain the confidence of the faithful, including calling for an audit of clergy files. Critics have said the audit task force will not have unlimited access to files.

Among the alleged abuse cases is a lawsuit filed just Thursday against the Rev. Jerome C. Kern, who is being sued by a man now in his 50s who said Kern abused him when he was 12 to 16 years old in the 1970s, while Kern was at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina. The lawsuit alleges that church leaders knew of alleged abuse but merely moved Kern to other churches.

The man's lawyer, St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, says there are at least 10 people who were abused by Kern, 72, over the years, and that multiple lawsuits are likely to follow. Kern was not available for comment, the Star Tribune reported.

MPR News talked to one man, Jamie Heutmaker, who was one of the boys Kern is alleged to have abused. He says Kern touched their genitals in the water during a swimming outing, calling it "Italian wrestling."

Heutmaker is not the plaintiff in the latest suit, but he said he spoke out Wednesday to denounce what he says is the church's long pattern of concealing abuse, MPR reported.

"I've been hearing and seeing this happen for 45 years since it occurred, and I've seen nothing changed," he said. "I'm hoping that we can stop this and save some children from going through what we all did."

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