Roman Catholic Bishop John Nienstedt of New Ulm, Minn., a theological conservative who has taken on Hollywood, stem-cell research and people who make too much noise in church, was named Tuesday to succeed Archbishop Harry Flynn.
The announcement by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that Nienstedt, 60, had been named "coadjutor archbishop" ended months of speculation over who would succeed Flynn, who will step down when he turns 75 next year.
Flynn, who has been archbishop since 1996, introduced Nienstedt at the archdiocese's chancery in St. Paul. He called Nienstedt "such a capable bishop" and said he had "broad experience that will serve him well."
But Nienstedt's time as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm has not been without controversy. While Flynn and others lauded him as an able administrator and liturgist, some of his actions have rankled his own priests and parishioners in the diocese he has led since August 2001.
Soon after being named bishop in New Ulm, he condemned some of the theological views of the man who had held the post before him for 25 years, Bishop Raymond Lucker, a noted progressive clergyman who died in 2001. Denouncing his predecessor's views was an "extraordinary step," the National Catholic Reporter noted in an article on the incident.
As bishop in New Ulm, Nienstedt prohibited cohabitating couples from being married in Catholic churches. He barred female pastoral administrators from leading prayers at a semiannual eadership event. He once disciplined a priest for holding joint ecumenical services with a Lutheran congregation after the Catholic church had been destroyed by a tornado.
Kenneth Irrgang, a retired priest who clashed with Nienstedt when he was bishop in New Ulm, predicted that Nienstedt will meet resistance among the 654 active priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"I expect disaster there. I don't think those priests are going to accept him," said Irrgang, who now lives in St. Cloud. "He's a micromanager. He has to control everything. He hews the line from the Vatican without any question whatsoever. He's not a very good people person."
But the Rev. Philip M. Schotzko of the Church of St. Peter in St. Peter, Minn., praised Nienstedt's abilities.
"Bishop Nienstedt is a consummate man of the church," said Schotzko. "He thinks with, prays with and loves the church with everything he's got. He just follows very carefully the teachings and all aspects of church theology and moral teachings. You'll get a very committed man in that way."
He said Nienstedt is "gifted in many ways as a liturgist" and considers him "a good organizer and planner and administrator."
Oh, this is just too delicious....