Craig Lassig / AP

Minnesota archbishop resigns amid pedophilia scandal

Prosecutors have charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis with ignoring reports of abuse

The archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a deputy bishop resigned Monday after prosecutors there charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect children from a pedophile priest.

The Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignations of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche. They resigned under a provision of canon law that allows bishops to resign before retirement because of illness or some other "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office.

Earlier this month, prosecutors charged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a corporation of having "turned a blind eye" to repeated reports of inappropriate behavior by a priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys. No individual was named in the complaint.  

Prosecutors said in March that no charges would be brought against Nienstedt, who had been accused by a boy of inappropriately touching his buttocks during a group photo session. The prosecutors said there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the archbishop, and Nienstedt denied any inappropriate contact.

Monday’s resignations came just days after Pope Francis approved the creation of a tribunal at the Vatican to hear cases of bishops who failed to protect children from sexually abusive priests. His decision followed years of criticism that the Vatican did not hold bishops accountable for having ignored warnings about abusive priests and simply moved them from parish to parish rather than report them to police or remove them from ministry.

In April, Francis accepted the resignation of U.S. Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted in a U.S. court of failing to report a suspected child abuser.

The criminal charges against the archdiocese stem from its handling of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for molesting two boys and faces prosecution involving a third boy in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors say church leaders failed to respond to "numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct" by Wehmeyer from the time he entered seminary until he was removed from the priesthood in 2015. The criminal complaint says that many people — including parishioners, fellow priests and parish staff reported issues with Wehmeyer and that many of those claims were discounted.

In another sign of the global reach of the church’s ongoing problems with pedophilia, the Vatican on Monday indicted its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, on charges that he sexually abused young boys and had child pornography on his computer. 

The Holy See said Monday that Wesolowski will have his first hearing July 11, the first time such a high-ranking Vatican official will stand trial for sex abuse.

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