For both Nienstedt and the archdiocese, the question is: 'What's next?'


One day after the sudden resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, Minnesota's Catholic community is talking about the way forward.

Nienstedt resigned from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Monday, just 10 days after the archdiocese was charged with failing to protect children as part of a sex abuse case.

Jennifer Haselberger is among those who say the move is a first step for the church. She herself resigned as the archdiocese's top canon lawyer in 2013, and told authorities about how superiors had mishandled and delayed reporting clergy sex abuse.

"I think the change is greater than these two men," Haselberger told KSTP. “I think we need to have faith in the leadership of the archdiocese and I don't think many people have faith in the leadership that existed."

Nienstedt's critics

Reports say Nienstedt was known for his strict adherence to orthodox doctrine and was one of the most outspoken supporters of banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

“He was a warrior bishop waging a cultural war,” Charles Reid, a professor of canon and civil law at the University of St. Thomas, told the Star Tribune.

MinnPost noted he had little support among Catholics since taking the role as archbishop in 2008, with some calling him controversial.

Even some Catholic leaders were dubious of the archbishop.

Rev. Michael Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis, told the Associated Press that Nienstedt "came into this diocese without really any empathy" and "undermined so many of the good things that were going on here."

His critics only got louder when the accusations of a coverup arose in the fall of 2013 (accusations Nienstedt has denied).

But even as lawsuits mounted (eventually forcing the archdiocese to file for bankruptcy) Nienstedt declared he wouldn't resign.

That was until Monday, when the Vatican announced it had accepted the archbishop's resignation in the wake of the most recent charges. (See a timeline events leading up to Nienstedt's resignation here.)

Some say Nienstedt's resignation will define his legacy, but many agree the church can now move forward.

Moving forward

"I think this is an opportunity for us to move forward, but I would hate for people to look at this situation and see this is the way the church generally operates," Haselberger told KARE 11.

She told the National Catholic Reporter it's important for the archdiocese to move quickly through bankruptcy and to resolve the charges filed against it, adding, "Then the real business of renewal can begin."

Other church leaders agree.

"I think it's the most positive thing that could happen," Denny Farrell, parish administrator at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale, told the Pioneer Press. "It's a giant step into the path for healing. Regardless of what Nienstedt did or didn't do, there is a strong feeling in the pews that a leadership change is needed."

MPR News says new leadership will likely bring in more donations to the archdiocese, which had been lacking in recent years as parishioners lost confidence in the archbishop in the wake of clergy abuse allegations.

"People are just reluctant even to support the parishes they love, knowing that some of the money was going to go to the diocese," Rev. Tim Power, a retired priest, told MPR News.

What's next for Nienstedt

Resigning from the role as archbishop does not mean he is defrocked. In fact, some are calling for more explanation from the Vatican as to whether he resigned on his own, or if he was forced out.

Nienstedt is completely done as an administrator and archbishop, Reid explained to FOX 9, but he is still able to act as a priest – saying mass and performing confirmations.

As for what is in Nienstedt's immediate future, Reid isn't sure.

Haselberger, speaking to KARE 11, notes the former archbishop will still continue to receive financial support from the Twin Cities archdiocese until he dies – unless he is given an appointment somewhere else.

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