Omaha Archbishop George Lucas told a crowded St. Wenceslaus Church Thursday night that clerics in the archdiocese will be held to a higher bar when it comes to their personal behavior.
“I have heard very clearly a call for a higher standard of ministerial and personal conduct for priests and deacons in the archdiocese,” Archbishop Lucas told parishioners.
He also promised a review of present clergy assignments, to ensure that priests and deacons are appropriately placed “for the good of the people.” Archbishop Lucas met with parishioners to hear their concerns about the 2015 decision to assign the Rev. Francis Nigli to the west Omaha parish.
The 58 year old Nigli was permanently removed from St. Wenceslaus last summer after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old man by kissing and fondling over his clothing. Nigli was also accused of an unwanted sexual advance against another young man in 2013 when he was pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill, Nebraska.
Both allegations were reported to law enforcement and no charges were filed. After first learning of the 2013 incident, Archbishop Lucas removed Nigli from the O’Neill parish and sent him to a Maryland treatment center. After his release, Nigli’s future was discussed at length with the Archdiocese of Omaha Review Board, a panel of lay experts in the fields of law enforcement, child protection and welfare, education, psychology and medicine. One priest also serves on the board.
Both the treatment center and the review board determined that Nigli was not a danger to children and considered him suitable for public ministry, with some restrictions. With their consultation and recommendation, Archbishop Lucas assigned Nigli to St. Wenceslaus.
“My decision to assign Father Nigli to St. Wenceslaus was not made in isolation,” Archbishop Lucas said. In the Nigli case, Lucas says the archdiocese followed the same procedures it uses when investigating an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.
“In spite of following established best practices and receiving expert consultation, our system failed,” Lucas said. The archdiocese currently uses a training curriculum developed by staff and area experts that is currently being used in 41 U.S. dioceses.
Lucas said more can be done to assure children and vulnerable adults are protected. “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, he said.
Lucas told the crowd at St. Wenceslaus that he will make a report to the archdiocese as these improvements are put in place.