A support group for victims of clergy sex abuse held a meeting over the weekend. It followed the same rules as all its other meetings, except for seated at the table with survivors was a man who represents the church they say abused them.
Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was not allowed to wear clerical robes, attended Saturday's support group meeting at the Wayzata library, the Star Tribune reports. This meeting was likely the first of its kind in Minnesota, and possibly the nation, the newspaper says.
The meeting, which about 25 people attended, was divided into two parts, according to a post on the Minnesota Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests' (SNAP) website. First, the victims took turns sharing their stories, which gave the state's top Catholic leader an inside look at the impact of abuse. Then there was an open discussion where all were invited to talk about what they'd learned during the sharing portion.
One victim reminded Nienstedt that continuing psychological care is important for survivors. The victim told the Star Tribune he's hoping the meeting was a sign that "things are heading in the right direction."
After the meeting, which was closed to the media, Nienstedt told the Star Tribune via email that he was "honored and thankful" the survivors shared their experiences with him. He told the newspaper he was moved by the victims' stories, which he says "encourage me to continue in our direction of protecting children from any abuse."
Bob Schwiderski, the former director of SNAP, invited Nienstedt to the meeting after asking permission from members of the support group, The Associated Press says. The meeting was not endorsed by SNAP, Barbara Blaine, the organization's president, told BringMeTheNews Tuesday.
Last week, a dozen faculty members at the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic college in St. Paul, wrote an open letter to Nienstedt calling for him to address the "spiritual and legal crisis" facing the local church.
The faculty members did not call for Nienstedt to resign his position, as others have proposed. Nienstedt has said he will not step down.