Ten days after a Minnesota prosecutor filed criminal charges against their diocese for failing to protect children from a sexually abusive priest, two U.S. bishops have resigned.
They are Archbishop John Nienstedt of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and one of his deputies, auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche.
The bishops resigned over their links to Curtis Wehmeyer, who has been dismissed from the priesthood and is serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2012 to criminal sexual conduct with two minors and possessing child pornography.
Pope Francis accepted their resignation on Monday, a week after approving an unprecedented Vatican tribunal intended to judge bishops for covering up or failing to report sexual abuse, which has caused worldwide scandal for more than a decade.
Minnesota prosecutor John Choi brought the charges against the archdiocese on June 5. Hundreds of civil cases have already been filed against it for allegedly failing to supervise priests or ignoring sexual abuse by the clergy.
Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, an independent group that helps tackle the issue in the Catholic Church, said the resignations were “disgracefully overdue.”
“Today’s news from Minnesota is a sobering reminder that the real source of accountability in the Catholic abuse crisis continues to reside outside the church,” Doyle said.
“Nienstedt and Piche would still be in power if not for (Choi’s) recent indictment of the archdiocese.”
Nienstedt said he was leaving because his leadership had “drawn attention away from the good works (of the Church).”
“I leave 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,” he said in a statement.
Piche said people of the archdiocese needed healing and hope. “I was getting in the way of that and so I had to resign,” he said in a statement.
Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Bernard Anthony Hebda of Newark as apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese until a new archbishop is appointed.