Open letter calls on Nienstedt to address 'crisis' in local church

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A dozen faculty members at the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic college in St. Paul, are calling on Archbishop John Nienstedt to address the "spiritual and legal crisis" facing the local church.

The faculty, all tenured members of the theology department at the school, wrote an open letter to Nienstedt Friday and released it publicly Monday. It read, in part:

"The people of God rightly expect bishops to be good stewards of the Lord's household. ... Recent events have shown how badly the pastoral leadership of the archdiocese has failed to meet those expectations. We refer not only to the multifaceted sexual abuse scandal itself but also to the manner in which these scandals have been handled. The harm done affects first of all the victims themselves. But it touches the lives of all of us as members of the Church."

They urged Nienstedt to work harder to regain the trust of Catholics in the archdiocese, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The faculty members did not call for Nienstedt to resign his position, as others have proposed. Nienstedt has said he will not step down.

Instead, they offered three main recommendations for change:

– "Leave the legal talk for the lawyers; bring pastoral talk to the people."

– "Reintroduce yourself to the people and parishes that are our Archdiocese."

– "Engage lay people in the work of the archdiocese."

A few hours later, Archbishop Nienstedt sent a letter in reply, according to KSTP.

"I am very sorry for anything I or my predecessors have done to cause Catholics to doubt their faith or the sacred trust that is placed in Church leadership," he wrote. "I am grateful, too, for your thoughtful advice and your willingness to share it."

Nienstedt responded to each suggestion, noting that he is taking steps in each area to address those concerns.

He said he meets regularly with clergy abuse victims, celebrates Mass and attends community events on weekends to be involved with the public. He pointed out that he recently hired a lay person, former Bureau of Criminal Apprehension chief Timothy O'Malley, for the new post of director of ministerial standards and safe environment. O'Malley began that job Monday.

Nienstedt closed with an invitation to the group to meet with him for more discussion on the topic.

On July 25, five female faculty members at St. Thomas called for "new leadership" in the archdiocese, the Pioneer Press notes, although they did not ask Nienstedt by name to resign.

Trial update

The clergy sex abuse trial against the archdiocese, as well as the Diocese of Winona, will get underway in early November. Ramsey County Judge John Van de North ruled Monday that it will be split into two separate phases, according to the Star Tribune.

The lawsuit was filed last year by a plaintiff known as Doe 1, claiming he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s when he was an altar boy. The lawsuit alleges church leaders created a "public nuisance" by not warning parishioners about the priest's abusive behavior. It also claims church leaders were negligent in their handling of the priest.

The judge said he would hear the public nuisance portion of the lawsuit, without a jury, beginning Nov. 3.

A separate jury trial will begin on Jan. 5 to hear the negligence portion of the lawsuit.

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