Archbishop Lucas’ response to the case of Father Nigli
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In the assignment of priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha, we have consistently followed the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and of civil and canon law. There are no priests serving in this archdiocese who have been credibly accused of the abuse of a minor.
There have been cases of priests who have committed an act of misconduct that is neither the abuse of a minor nor otherwise a crime. In considering whether it is appropriate for such a priest to be given a pastoral assignment, a thorough review is conducted, so that a prudent decision can be made for the good of all.
When Father Francis Nigli was considered for appointment to St. Wenceslaus parish in 2015, I knew that he was guilty of a significant breach of good conduct with a young adult. This incident had been reported to law enforcement and was not considered a crime. It was not a violation of the Charter. Father Nigli had a good record of pastoral service, beyond this inappropriate conduct with another person.
The possibility of Father Nigli’s appointment was discussed at length with the Archdiocesan Review Board. This board is made up of lay experts in the fields of law enforcement, child welfare, psychology, education, and medicine, who are not archdiocesan employees. One priest also serves on the board.
Father Nigli had admitted and repented of his offense. He had in place local support systems of laity and clergy. He agreed not to engage in regular ministry with young adults. The pastor was aware of his past and present situation in detail, and he agreed to monitor and mentor Father Nigli. In other words, my decision to assign Father Nigli to St. Wenceslaus parish was not made in isolation.
In spite of following established best practices and receiving expert consultation, our system failed. Father Nigli committed another offense against an innocent person. St. Wenceslaus parish was then informed that Father Nigli was removed from ministry for misconduct involving an adult who is not a parishioner. The parish has been hurt. There are understandable questions among many Catholics about the confidence that can be placed in me and in our priests.
During formal listening sessions with laity, in informal conversations, and now after meeting with St. Wenceslaus parishioners, I have heard very clearly a call for a higher standard of ministerial and personal conduct, as well as greater transparency, in the assignment of clergy. In response to this call, we are undertaking a review of present clergy assignments, to ensure that priests and deacons are appropriately placed for the good of our people. I have asked the Vicar for Clergy to work in collaboration with our Priests Council and Archdiocesan Review Board to update a clear code of conduct for clergy and laity serving in roles of ministry and service in the archdiocese.
During this time of renewed scandal and diminished trust in Church leadership, we must be diligent in developing even better standards and procedures for the assignment of those who are entrusted with the pastoral care of the people of God. I will make a report to the archdiocese as these improvements are put in place, and I invite your prayers for this effort. Pray, too, that in every way, we may become more clearly the church that the Lord invites us to be.
God bless you.
Most Reverend George J. Lucas
Archbishop of Omaha