Anne Barrett Doyle of the group BishopAccountability.org recently wrote a thoughtful article on how Pope Francis’ major law to hold bishops and religious superiors accountable for abuse they commit or cover-up, Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You Are the Light of the World”), is not working.That article caused me to reflect on the long-standing, unsuccessful efforts in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to hold its former archbishop, John Nienstedt, accountable for alleged personal sexual misconduct and a failed cover-up involving abuse by another priest under his supervision.
These efforts have both pre-dated and post-dated Vos Estis, which went into effect on June 1, 2019, so it is with much disappointment that nothing has been resolved to hold Nienstedt accountable. It represents a real-life example of why Vos Estis is not working and needs serious reform.
I first wrote about the need for the church to complete a full and fair investigation of matters concerning Nienstedt and now disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick in January 2019. I noted then that some progress had just been made regarding Nienstedt. Archbishop Bernard Hebda had called for a “lay-led mechanism” for investigating allegations against bishops and had clarified that Nienstedt “would not be free to exercise public ministry” in the archdiocese until all open allegations against him had been resolved.
But no public disclosures of prior investigations of Nienstedt occurred, and no one apparently was called upon to further investigate Nienstedt’s alleged misconduct.
This changed six months later. Soon after the Vos Estis protocol became effective, Tom Johnson, the court-appointed ombudsman for clerical sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, took direct action. On July 17, 2019, Johnson, a highly regarded attorney, submitted a detailed complaint requesting an investigation pursuant to the new Vos Estis process.