Minnesota Archbishop John Nienstedt steps aside while `inappropriate contact’ investigated. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Minnesota Archbishop John Nienstedt steps aside while `inappropriate contact’ investigated. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis


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(RNS) Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, already under fire for failing to take action against priests suspected of abuse, announced Tuesday (Dec. 17) that he is stepping aside temporarily after a minor accused the outspoken archbishop of touching his buttocks during a group photo after a 2009 confirmation ceremony.

In what he called “a difficult letter for me to write,” Nienstedt says he learned of the allegation during the weekend. He said he does not know the young man and he presumes his accuser to be “sincere in believing what he claims.”

But he rejected the charge as “absolutely and entirely false.”

“I normally stand for those photos with one hand on my crozier (staff) and the other either on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed or on my pallium (the short stole), which hangs from my chest,” Nienstedt explained. “I do that deliberately, and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact.”

The age of the accuser has not been disclosed. Catholic children can be confirmed between the ages of 7 and 16, after they receive First Communion, though confirmation usually takes place when they are about 13 years old.

“I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor,” he added. “True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors.”

A statement from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said that as soon as the allegation was made, it was reported to police as required by civil law and church policies. Nienstedt decided to temporarily step aside, pending the outcome of the police investigation, after consulting with the pope’s ambassador to Washington.

Nienstedt could return to his duties right away if he is cleared; there is no timetable for the investigation, though the archbishop wrote that he hopes it can be “can be thorough but quick.” He said he will have no further public comment on the matter until it is resolved.

Nienstedt acknowledged that he has been a lightning rod for criticism because of his “strong stands” on a range of culture war issues. He has been especially outspoken against gay marriage, which Minnesota legalized earlier this year in part because of what political observers say was a backlash against Nienstedt’s harsh rhetoric.

In September, Nienstedt said he believes gay marriage, contraception, sodomy and pornography are the work of Satan, and in 2012 he wrote to the mother of a gay man to say her “eternal salvation” depended on accepting church teaching against homosexuality.

But for much of this year Nienstedt has been on the defensive over reports – contained in church documents leaked by a whistleblower who worked for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — that he shielded and even promoted priests accused of sex abuse and possessing child pornography.

In a 2012 draft of a letter to the Vatican on the priest with pornography, Nienstedt wrote that if he did not report the priest it “could expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution.” Nienstedt never sent the letter, however, and insisted he had done nothing wrong and followed all appropriate church and civil laws.

But local police reopened the investigation in that case — though they say Nienstedt is not a target — and the archbishop established a task force to review all church records and recommend reforms to tighten archdiocesan policies.

The archdiocese said that the response to the accusation against Nienstedt showed that its policies were working.

Just last Sunday (Dec. 15), Nienstedt delivered a homily at a parish in Edina, Minn., and apologized for not being more aggressive in pursuing abuse cases when he took over as archbishop in 2008.

“When I arrived here … one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it,” he said. “Unfortunately I believed that. … And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. When the story started to break at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.”

The explanation did not mollify critics inside or outside the church, but Nienstedt was praised for voluntarily stepping aside Tuesday while the allegations are investigated by police.

“This action demonstrates that no one in the church, whether bishop or employee, should be protected from the consequences of such allegations,” said a statement from Voice of the Faithful, a reform group that had already called on Nienstedt to resign because of his past record on abuse cases.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

11 Comments

  1. SNAP to Catholics: “Don’t Donate until Fr. McDonough is defrocked”
    For immediate release: Wednesday December 18, 2013

    Statement by Bob Schwiderski, SNAP Minnesota director (952 471 3422, skibrs@q.com)

    Enough is enough. Catholic officials should start defrocking Fr. Kevin McDonough. And Catholic parishioners should donate elsewhere until this happens.

    Fr. McDonough knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover ups than anyone else in the archdiocese. His name and fingerprints are on many church records about concealing known and suspected crimes.

    But the final straw came late yesterday when St. Paul’s police chief named Fr. McDonough as one of the archdiocesan clerics who refuse to be questioned by police.

    http://www.kaaltv.com/article/stories/S3249793.shtml?cat=10151

    http://www.twincities.com/crime/ci_24740703/archbishop-nienstedt-accused-will-step-aside

    By this decision, Fr. McDonough has lost any shred of or claim to any moral authority he may have once had.

    And by tolerating this, Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piche – and every other chancery office staffer – are also besmirching themselves and the church they purport to love.

    It’s absurd for them to claim that they “cannot speak for Fr. McDonough and his choice not to speak with the police.”

    http://www.archspm.org/news-events/news-detail.php?intResourceID=11162

    Fr. McDonough isn’t some renegade. He’s long been a key “inside player” in the archdiocesan headquarters.

    And the church isn’t a loosely-knit hippie commune. It’s a rigid hierarchy in which priests promise lifelong obedience to their archbishop. So why isn’t Archbishop Nienstedt ordering Fr. McDonough to sit down with the police?

    Finally, last night, archdiocesan officials issued yet another statement professing that it “wants to cooperate” with authorities. That’s obviously baloney.

    If you want to cooperate, you do so. You don’t wait for a formal letter or request or public criticism from your town’s highest ranking police officer.

    They also claim that they hope to “better understand the (police department’s) requests for information in greater detail.” That’s baloney too.

    If you don’t understand a request, you ask for clarity. You don’t delay and pretend you’re confused.

    Catholic officials are well-educated. They hire legions of well-educated lawyers. And police are not known for being vague about what they want. So this implication – that somehow this is just a lack of clarity – is yet another blatant public relations maneuver.

    Until the Catholic hierarchy – in St. Paul or elsewhere – start defrocking Fr. McDonough, we beg church members to stop donating to Catholic institutions and donate instead to other agencies and churches. It is simply wrong to ignore this kind of blatant wrongdoing by Catholic officials and merrily go about our business as if nothing is dramatically wrong.

    We especially appeal to those who attend parishes where Fr. McDonough has worked to do so. And we urge religious leaders in other denominations to denounce Fr. McDonough and his supervisors and to distance themselves from this corrupt bunch. By doing so, these religious figures may deter similar selfish and secretive and irresponsible behavior in the future.

    It matters less to us who starts the defrocking process – whether it’s the archbishop or his auxiliary bishop or some other church official. It matters most to us that someone in the Catholic hierarchy show a bit of spine and move to defrock – or at least discipline and demote – this corrupt cleric.

    Contact – David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747,SNAPblaine@gmail.com) Bob Schwiderski, SNAP Minnesota director (952 471 3422, skibrs@q.com)

  2. Deb Geelsdottir

    I live in MN and I am outraged at the behavior of Neinstadt and his cronies! They clearly believe they are above civil MN and USA law. Arrests need to be made for obstructing justice. The more Neinstadt delays, the more time there is to cover up. He needs to hand over the keys and tell the St. Paul police the door is wide open. Then get out of the way.

    Next they’ll be sending people like McDonough to the Vatican for some reason that won’t past the smell test. Just like the rest of Neinstadt’s operation.

    What bone-deep shame the Neinstadt gang ought to be feeling.

  3. Mark A. Reiff

    Having moved back to Minnesota only recently, it is obvious the Archbishop is under assault and being slandered but the radical homosexual lobby in the
    Twin Citiestand the local brain dead liberal media the local media and its agenda of undermining the Chruch and its moral authority. The allegation,which, in my opinion is absolutely false, is part of the vendetta against the church by a media and a culture he has dared to challenge. He is being crucified for speaking truth to modern cultural ignorance. In bearing his cross he is in good company. Culturally captive Catholics are the real scandal in the Catholic Church today because they will stoop to lie and any slander to get their way and sell out to the faith to accommodate our debased culture.

    • Mr. Reiff, perhaps you are correct based on the reasons you’ve given. It is good, though, that the archbishop (he was once a Detroit auxliary) is allowing the course of justice to run unimpeded. The end result might well be his exoneration–which will not receive a word of menton among the gaggles you cite.

      It is amazing, too, the numbers of people who are merely looking for deep pockets to set them up for material success that thus far has eluded them or to pay off debt incurred in mismanaging their own lives. The plaintiff’s “privacy,”
      always, is more important than any damage done to the defendant.

      I don’t see it happening, but I would want the diocese to go after the “plaintiff” for damages, including costs, if the charges prove groundless.

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