Joe Soucheray: Nienstedt’s resignation will be his legacy
A friend of mine who has always been useful to the Catholic Church as a volunteer in his parish told me upon the arrival of John Nienstedt as archbishop that I had best not call him “Arch.”
“He is not the ‘Arch’ type,” I was told.
I had called Nienstedt’s predecessor Harry Flynn “Arch” when I saw him out and about. I think I was being cautioned to understand that Nienstedt was possibly a bit more stern than Flynn, a bit more officious, more formal and standoffish. I do not know that to be the case. I never had the chance to find out, because I never saw Nienstedt out and about. Never. Flynn worked the room, meaning the whole archdiocese, and maybe Nienstedt did, too, but I never saw him, so I never had the chance to hail him as “Arch” and discover the consequences of such informality.
It was with great sadness that I learned that Flynn developed memory loss when he was grilled about abusive priests. He got so lawyered up that I’m not sure he would have remembered the time of day if he had just glanced at his watch.
Nienstedt got lawyered up, too. For the past couple of years, it felt like the archdiocese was run by the lawyers and that there was no room for these guys to practice what they were supposed to preach. The allegations of a cover-up struck to the very core of cowardice. Every day — OK, not every day, but maybe every time you went to Mass — you kept waiting for the dam to break and for some leader, most principally the archbishop, to grab this horrid mess by the scruff of the neck and throw it out into the open, into clear air and sunlight. That didn’t happen.
Well, it has been thrown out into the open. John Choi, not the church officials, patiently saw to that. Through the bankruptcy proceeding, the victims will get compensated, which might be small consolation. The church will sell off properties and will have to humble itself financially just to pay the bills for years of cover-ups.
What is Nienstedt’s legacy? He gave his consent to using the grounds of the Cathedral for Crashed Ice. He is said to be a hockey fan, and I suppose Crashed Ice was a gesture to a large community of hockey fans.
But there is little legacy of spiritual growth or healing. It took too long. There is little doubt that Nienstedt devoted himself to the church. He was 22 when he graduated from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and 26 when he was ordained a priest. He has known no other life. And while it might be true that he hung in there so long to clean up internal affairs for his successor, his resignation is the only thing we have that comes closest to Nienstedt expressing his humanity. But that resignation is a formality, granted by the Vatican, conveniently enough a resignation announced shortly after the pope in Rome said words to the effect of, “OK, we’re putting together a tribunal to take a look at all you guys who have been involved in allegations of cover-ups. We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
For the vast majority of the 825,000 Catholics in the archdiocese who were never abused by a priest, there is the lingering suspicion of life at the highest levels of the church not yet being on the up and up. But we plod along, still going to Mass. It wasn’t Nienstedt’s church. It is Christ’s church.
A little more than 30 years ago, the archbishop, John Roach, went to jail in Ramsey County on a drunken driving charge. It was sad to have to write about that. We thought that was big news. It could not be ignored. Roach took his medicine and life went on.
Nienstedt’s resignation is big news. Maybe that’s the medicine he has to take. Life will go on now as well.