Nienstedt getting involved in new church after resignation as archbishop

Published 9:24 am Friday, January 15, 2016

By Elizabeth Mohr, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Seven months after embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt announced his resignation from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a church in Michigan has announced he will be joining them as an assistant pastor on a temporary basis.

The announcement came Sunday, on Page 2 of the weekly bulletin for St. Philip Roman Catholic Church in Battle Creek, Michigan.

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The church’s pastor, Fr. John Fleckenstein, noted Nienstedt’s move midway through a memo written for parishioners, saying he’s known Nienstedt for about 20 years and that Nienstedt “will be joining us to assist in various pastoral ministries during this time.”

Fleckenstein said Nienstedt will remain in the St. Philip parish for about six months because the pastor needs help while he navigates health issues and while he takes time to “complete a couple of major projects for the Diocese in my role as Episcopal Vicar for Education.”

Nienstedt “will celebrate some of the weekend and weekday Masses, visit the sick in the hospital, visit the sick and homebound, and celebrate Mass for the nursing home and assisted living facilities,” Fleckenstein’s note said. “He will also celebrate some Masses on Sundays around the Diocese when there is a priest who needs to be away. … While the Archbishop is not ‘assigned’ to the parish, I’m grateful he will assist us in these next few months.”

The parish of St. Philip is part of the Diocese of Kalamazoo; Battle Creek sits about 75 miles east of Lake Michigan and about 120 miles west of Detroit. Nienstedt is a Detroit native.

Nienstedt came to the Twin Cities in 2007 as successor to Archbishop Harry Flynn and fully assumed his duties in 2008. He served as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm in southern Minnesota starting in 2001.

Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piche resigned on June 15 — a rare occurrence in the Catholic hierarchy.

The announcement came 10 days after the Ramsey County attorney’s office filed criminal charges and civil claims against the archdiocese, alleging that church officials — including Nienstedt, 68, and Piche, 57 — protected a predatory priest.

The archdiocese also had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last January, citing an operating deficit and pending clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Last month, the Ramsey County attorney’s office and church officials announced a settlement agreement in the civil case. The archdiocese has agreed to create an unprecedented child-protection plan, which will be subject to the oversight of the county attorney’s office and the court.

The criminal case remains ongoing and prosecutors have said an investigation into allegations of clergy sex abuse and church cover-ups remains active.

Allegations of church leaders’ misconduct erupted in 2013 when an archdiocese whistleblower went public.

In 2014, Nienstedt ordered an independent investigation in response to allegations that he had past inappropriate sexual relationships or contact with other men — something he’s denied. Attorneys from the law firm Greene Espel said they concluded their investigation in August 2015.