Jul 7, 2014

Minnesota archbishop orders internal investigation of claims made against him


 

NATIONAL

 

By Catholic News Service
(CNS photo/courtesy of The Catholic Spirit)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis told priests and staff about recent allegations against him involving events alleged to have occurred a decade ago before he began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, calling them "absolutely and entirely false."

The claims do not involve minors, and they do not implicate any kind of illegal or criminal behavior.

The new allegations were made public in an article posted on Commonweal magazine's website. The article notes an internal investigation Archbishop Nienstedt ordered after he became aware of the allegations.

"I have ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the archdiocese. It would be unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I know them to be false," Archbishop Nienstedt said in a July 1 statement sent to all priests, deacons and archdiocesan staff, and posted at archspm.org.

"Since I would instruct the archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I had ordered the archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me," he said.

In overseeing the investigation, which is ongoing, Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche hired an outside firm unaffiliated with the archdiocese to conduct it.

The archdiocese also notified the apostolic nuncio, who oversees all bishops in the U.S., of the allegations, and will inform him of the results of the investigation once it's completed.

Ordained a priest of the Detroit Archdiocese in 1974, then-Father Nienstedt was appointed an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2001, he was named to head the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. In 2007, he was named coadjutor archbishop for St. Paul and Minneapolis and about a year later automatically became head of the archdiocese when Archbishop Harry J. Flynn retired.

Commonweal, a lay-run magazine published in New York, quoted the archdiocese's former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, as saying the claims involve "sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop."

In a written response, Archbishop Nienstedt told Commonweal the allegations are nothing more than a "personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage."

Associate editor Grant Gallicho, who wrote the story, also reported that Archbishop Nienstedt told him: "I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone."

Haselberger resigned from her position as archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs in April 2013 over what she said were serious disagreements she had with archdiocesan officials on procedures for handling abuse claims.

In October 2013, the archdiocese announced a newly formed Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force to conduct a full review of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' policies and practices and "any and all issues" related to clergy sexual misconduct.

The task force was created amid media reports of sexual misconduct allegations concerning certain priests in the archdiocese and criticism of how their cases were handled by archdiocesan officials.

In November, Archbishop Nienstedt released the names of priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them after getting court permission.

In December, the archbishop voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry while St. Paul Police investigated an allegation that he inappropriately touched a male minor on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photo session after a confirmation ceremony.

The allegation was brought to the police Dec. 16, 2013. In a letter to Catholics released the following day, Archbishop Nienstedt called the allegation "absolutely and entirely false."

He returned to public ministry in March of this year, following a thorough investigation by police of the claim and the announcement by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office no charges would be filed against the archbishop.

A memo accompanying the announcement said the case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney "with many years of experience prosecuting child sex abuse cases," who agreed that there should be no charges in the case.