Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis published a letter Friday addressed to Minnesota’s Catholics in which he calls for the allegations against his predecessor to be “fully addressed.”
Hebda was brought in after the 2015 resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, who announced his resignation when the archdiocese was charged with failing to protect children from predator priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Nienstedt himself currently stands accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with adults while serving as a priest in Detroit and Rome, and was later accused of undressing in front of two male minors while at the 2005 Worth Youth Day in Germany.
On Friday, Hebda revealed that the Vatican stopped investigating the claims against Nienstedt after he resigned.
“Thus, the matter remains unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public,” Hebda wrote. “I share the frustration that is felt by them, and believe this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”
Hebda also noted that the allegations surrounding World Youth Day surfaced after a 2014 investigation into Nienstedt’s conduct was already closed, and wasn’t made public by Ramsey County until 2016.
“Archbishop Nienstedt denies this ever happened. My opinion is this allegation needs to be fully addressed before a definitive resolution of Archbishop Nienstedt’s suitability for ministry can be made,” Hebda wrote.
Hebda revealed that Nienstedt, like “any priest facing similar allegations,” would “not be free to exercise public ministry in this archdiocese until all open allegations are resolved.”
“It is my word against the accusers and, as much as they seem to want to discredit me, I don’t want to harm them,” Nienstedt said. “I welcome an impartial look at the facts and the opportunity to defend myself.”
In his letter, Hebda further claimed that he will continue to “advocate for the creation of an independent review board.”
“I share the disappointment of many that more progress has not been made at the national and international level to address bishop accountability,” Hebda concluded. “It is my prayer and hope that the February meeting Pope Francis is convening with bishops from around the world produces tangible results.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Archbishop Bernard Hebda” by the Archdiocese of St. Pauland Minneapolis.