A priest is leaving a Battle Creek parish after some members of the southwestern Michigan diocese became angered to learn that he led a Minnesota archdiocese during a clergy sex abuse scandal.
Pastor John Fleckenstein wrote in a letter Thursday to members of St. Philip Catholic Church that Archbishop John Nienstedt decided to discontinue his work there "in light of the unintended discord that his presence was causing."
Reverend Paul J. Bradley, the bishop of Kalamazoo, wrote in a separate letter to the people of the diocese that he regretted the "disunity, fear and hurt to many of you," adding:
"I should have foreseen the full impact and strong emotional reaction to his presence in the Diocese."
David Clohessy, Executive Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said while it’s good news that Nienstedt is leaving, he would have liked to see the church oust him instead.
“Nienstedt should have been ordered out of Michigan. He should not be leaving voluntarily, and he should never be put in a position where he can be around vulnerable young adults again,” Clohessy said.
Clohessy added that he believes in forgiveness, but said protecting children is the top priority.
“A drunken school bus driver can and should be forgiven, and supported, and loved, but never be behind the wheel of a school bus again,” he said.
Nienstedt stepped in at St. Philip earlier this month while his friend Fleckenstein recovered from an illness. He was to serve at the southwestern Michigan diocese for six months.
Nienstedt resigned from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in June after county prosecutors accused the Church of failing to protect children from sexual abuse by the clergy.
Curtis Wehmeyer, the priest convicted of molesting two boys, is now in prison. Nienstedt has not been charged.
– Amelia Zak and Will Greenberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom