A group of theology professors from the largest Catholic university in Minnestota penned an open letter to the archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, lamenting ongoing revelations of clergy sex abuse and “also to the manner in which these scandals have been handled.”
Addressed to Archbishop John Nienstedt, under fire for allegedly mishandling reports of clergy sex abuse, twelve tenured faculty members of the University of St. Thomas wrote, “Recent events have shown how badly the pastoral leadership of the Archdiocese has failed” to respond to the pastoral needs of Catholics there.
The group stopped short of calling for Nienstedt’s resignation, writing that they “remain committed to working and praying for the good of the whole archdiocese, including its pastoral leadership.”
Update: Archbishop Nienstedt Responds
Nienstedt replied to the letter yesterday, thanking the group for their letter and apologizing 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 replied to each of the suggestions, writing that the archdiocese has already taken the steps suggested by the theologians, including holding “a series of healing Masses designed for all those who feel they have been hurt by the Church.”
Nienstedt has faced criticism for a number of scandals in recent months, including accusations from a former archdiocesan chancellor, Jennifer Haselberger, who claimed that church personnel knowingly turned a blind eye to accusations. Other employees have reported hostile working conditions in the chancery, and Nienstedt himself remains under a self-appointed archdiocesan investigation for sexual misconduct. Those allegations involve adult seminarians and priests, and date back before Nienstedt was archbishop.
The theologians suggest ways for Nienstedt and his team to “proposals that may open a path toward recovery from the pastoral breakdown we are witnessing,” such as a series of town hall-style meetings at parishes, stepping away from direct involvement in legal proceedings, and engaging more lay people in church governance.
Nienstedt wrote that “lay people make up the majority of the boards that provide me with advice and consultation, and I do listen to them,” and he pointed to the recent hiring of a Judge Timothy O’Malley to serve in a newly created role that oversees “safe environment” policies.
The theologians believe the problems run deeper than individual staff.
“The harsh light now being shone on the inner governance of the Archdiocese makes clear that the problems are not merely personal,” the authors wrote. “They are systemic, the product of a long-standing and deeply entrenched clericalism that does not have to be the corollary of the ordained priestly ministry.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, slammed the theologians’ letter as being focused on “symbolic or long term moves.” The statement said, “Helping to prevent more child sex crimes and cover ups now must come first.”
Signing the letter were University of St. Thomas professors Cara Anthony; Bernard Brady; Massimo Faggioli; Paul Gavrilyuk; Michael Hollerich; John Martens; Stephen McMichael; Paul Niskanen; David Penchansky; Gerald Schlabach; Ted Ulrich; and Paul Wojda.
The University of St. Thomas, founded in 1885 by Archbishop John Ireland, has a student population of just over 10,000 and is affiliated with two Catholic seminaries. Just over 800,000 Catholics live in the Archdiocese, according to its website.