St. Thomas faculty join refrain for Twin Cities leadership change

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Five female professors at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minn., say it’s time for new leadership in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, the latest to repeat a refrain already echoed by priests, donors, news publications and Catholics in the pews.

“For genuine healing to occur, we believe it is necessary to have new leadership at the archdiocesan level, leadership that includes individuals who are neither perpetrators nor enablers of abuse,” they said in a letter shared with several media outlets, including NCR.

The tenured theology professors -- Cara Anthony, Corrine Carvalho, Sherry Jordon, Sue Myers and Kimberly Vrudny -- did not name specific persons, such as Archbishop John Nienstedt, in the letter, but said they see a need to restore trust in the archdiocese following the near year-long abuse scandal that has hovered over the region.

“Because we believe in a God of justice and of mercy, restoration of community requires that abusers acknowledge wrongdoing and undergo the long, hard, arduous task of reconciliation. This entails sincere contrition, public truth telling, and adequate restitution,” they said.

The group, speaking their own views, said they could not keep quiet after learning more of the abuse scandal from a recent Minnesota Public Radio documentary and from the affidavit of Jennifer Haselberger, the former chancellor for canonical affairs who has disclosed much of the documents that has fueled near-constant reports since September.

Calls for a change in leadership have gained renewed momentum from the affidavit and reports that Nienstedt is under investigation, one that he ordered, for allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with other adult men, including priests and seminarians. Nienstedt has fiercely denied the charges.

In a July 8 email to NCR, the archbishop said he has heard calls for his resignation but that the decision is not his to make. “As a bishop,” he said, “I made a promise to serve the Church. It is what God has called me to do, like a groom to the Church, for better or for worse.”

In their letter, the professors said it has been painful to learn of the indiscretions, some allegedly committed by people they knew and respected. In October, a woman accused Fr. Michael Keating, a St. Thomas professor, of abusing her as a teenager in the late 1990s. Keating has taken a leave of absence from the school and priestly ministry and has denied any wrongdoing.

“We teach a tradition that proclaims a God of love who cares for the downtrodden, and we find it difficult when that biblical message is met with skepticism and resistance in our classrooms because of the behavior of clerics who abuse their positions in the church,” the professors said.

They wrote they spoke on behalf of children who have been molested and ignored, and were concerned about the harm caused them while “systemic efforts” sought instead to protect the perpetrating priests.

“We recognize the hypocrisy of the clergy when they judgmentally rebuke congregants for sexual behavior they deem deviant when some of them are pedophiles, and when some of them have abused their positions of power to protect child molesters,” the letter said.

Because some of the actions were taken with “full knowledge and intention,” they said Catholic moral thought “makes their crimes all the more egregious,” and warrant prosecution for any committed. But more than prosecution or reconciliation, they perceived a need for new voices in the archdiocese.

“Rather than leaders who use power to protect themselves and their fellow clergy, we need ministers who put the children first, and who truly understand how to heal the brokenhearted,” they wrote.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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