Letter(s) from Archbishop Nienstedt

Writing as I am on Sunday afternoon after the conclusion of our Fall Festival, I am deeply grateful to all involved who made it such a tremendous success. As the weather forecasts started to predict something other than optimum festival weather, I wondered what we could do to salvage the annual event. Our committee swung into action, though, making the call early enough to allow for games, food, bingo, and vendors all to be indoors. As it turned out, the close quarters worked very well. The temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s and the mist and showers didn’t affect us inside the building. Even the games seemed to attract and hold the attention of more people because everything was within a few steps. It was a lot of fun.

Many thanks go to our Fall Festival Committee: Gail Barta, Sarah Larsen, Yvonne Houle-Gillard, John Plut, John Vogel, Nancy Stanton, and Ralph Dumond. They were assisted by our staff liaison, Sara Rogers, and many volunteers, including many of the spouses of committee members. You did a terrific job!

I am hoping that when you read this, I will be able to look back on a fruitful four-day retreat. As I am preparing to leave for the retreat center, it seems to be an especially good time to tune out the news. The past couple of weeks have been difficult ones for me, as I suppose they have been for you who love our Church. I neglected to make available a heartfelt letter to all of you from Archbishop Nienstedt, dated Friday, September 27. In it he states:

… I want to share with you my personal feelings and thoughts on an important matter that has been in the news this week in our community. It has weighed heavily on my heart.

I am deeply saddened by the Curtis Wehmeyer case. In hearing the news, my heart ached for these children and their family. I am sorry that they have had to endure such pain and suffering. I have reflected on this at great length, and I have questioned my own judgment in dealing with the situation.

At the time I named Curtis Wehmeyer pastor, I did not know, nor did I suspect, that he was a risk to children. When we did receive the allegation of abuse against Wehmeyer, we immediately contacted law enforcement.

It is clear that Curtis Wehmeyer should not have been in active ministry. Understanding those facts today, I must conclude that I should have handled this matter more aggressively and I am sorry that I did not. I tried to do the right thing, but it wasn’t enough, and I deeply regret that I couldn’t prevent this horrible crime from occurring. I will always feel the weight of that burden.

Our standard is zero tolerance for child abuse by priests and absolute accountability. We never want this to happen again. We all must work together to protect children. For the past year, the archdiocese has been reviewing all of our policies and procedures. I am also calling for the formation of a Task Force to review our work in order to ensure the highest standards of child safety and security. The Task Force, soon to be formed, will have full authority and I will make their recommendations public.

As the leader of this local Church, I bear a special responsibility for the actions of the priests in our Archdiocese. I am deeply committed to do all in my power so that no one is harmed by priestly misconduct…

 Since then, every day seems to bring new dimensions to the story of how our leadership, in the estimation of many, left people as risk. I spoke at the beginning of each of the Sunday Masses, and also read an announcement from our Archdiocese. Now I want to reprint the following letter to the clergy from Archbishop Nienstedt. Dated October 5 (last Saturday), it contains mostly the same information I read in the official statement:

 My dear brother priests and deacons,

It is indeed a very challenging time for us in this local Church. I am certain that as you read and hear media reports, you are just as saddened and concerned as I am by the allegations and developments this week.

I must be clear: there can be no room for misconduct among us. Our standard must be zero tolerance for abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. There can be no question whatsoever. We are called to live in imitation of Christ and to lead by example. At the same time, we must be fair and just to all involved in the process of implementing our policies.

To that end, and as a follow up to my letter to you on Friday, September 27 in which I called for the formation of an independent task force, I write to you today to let you know that I have appointed Fr. Reginald Whitt, O.P. as Vicar of Ministerial Standards. Fr. Whitt has graciously accepted the appointment and is eager to serve.

In his new position, Fr. Whitt will be responsible for overseeing the current administration related to clergy misconduct and will appoint members to the Task Force. The Task Force will be charged with reviewing any and all issues related to clergy misconduct and to make specific recommendations regarding action to be taken and policies and procedures to be implemented.

The Vicar and the Task Force, which will convene this week, will have full authority and all of the resources needed to complete their work. The findings and recommendations of this task force will be released publicly when the final report is complete.

We hold a sacred trust. The People of God must be able to rely on us to do everything in our power to avoid any form of scandal. Indeed, our very vocation requires the highest standard of conduct so that all may be drawn to the person of Jesus Christ through our witness.

I ask for your renewed commitment to our shared mission to create and maintain safe environments where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can flourish.

Fraternally yours,

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

Leave a Reply