Archbishop John Nienstedt, the outspokenly antigay head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has resigned, less than two weeks after local prosecutors charged the archdiocese with mishandling complaints of sexual misconduct by priests.
Pope Francis accepted Nienstedt's resignation today, according to a statement on the archdiocese's website. Nienstedt said he resigned to offer the archdiocese "a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face," and said he was leaving "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." Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche also resigned.
Ramsey County, Minn., prosecutors filed criminal charges against the archdiocese June 5, accusing the hierarchy of "failing to protect children" against abuse. The charges stem from Curtis Wehmeyer's sexual abuse of teenage boys when he was a priest in St. Paul; Wehmeyer is now serving a prison term.
The archdiocese received "numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct by Curtis Wehmeyer," yet failed to take action to protect the children in his parish, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told the Minneapolis Star Tribune when the charges were filed.
This is the first time a U.S. archdiocese has faced criminal charges in connection with such abuse, the Star Tribune reports. "The archdiocese is charged with six gross misdemeanors in connection with the abuse, each carrying a maximum fine of $3,000," the paper notes. No individual is charged, but rather the archdiocese as an institution, and it is unlikely that any person will be subject to prison time. Since 2013, several civil cases have been filed against the archdiocese as well.
There have been calls for Nienstedt's resignation for some time, amid allegations that he ignored abuse by priests and accusations that the archbishop himself made unwelcome sexual advances to other men. He denied ever having done so, last year telling the Star Tribune, "I'm not gay. And I'm not antigay," despite his activism against marriage equality and LGBT rights in general.
He was a leader of the 2012 effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban same-sex marriage; voters rejected the amendment, and legislators passed a marriage equality law the following year. Last year, Nienstedt forced the resignation of a church music director who had married a same-sex partner. He also has said Satan is behind the movement for "the redefinition of marriage," and he once wrote to the mother of a gay son that her "eternal salvation may well depend" on her acceptance of the Catholic Church's teachings against homosexuality.
Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda, currently the coadjutor archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., as the apostolic administrator of the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese, meaning he will run the archdiocese until a new archbishop is chosen. The archdiocese covers 12 counties in Minnesota.