MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Tuesday an allegation of inappropriate touching has been brought against Archbishop John Nienstedt.
According to the archdiocese, Nienstedt is accused of inappropriately touching a young boy on the buttocks during a group photo session after a confirmation ceremony in 2009.
Nienstedt has denied the allegation but will voluntarily step aside from public ministry, effective immediately, while an investigation into the incident takes place.
Once the archdiocese learned of the allegation, church officials contacted police. They said in a statement on their website that they are ready to fully cooperate with the St. Paul police’s investigation.
Authorities said the investigation against Nienstedt began around 2 p.m. on Monday — a day after he publicly apologized and addressed the media regarding sexual abuse allegations involving dozens of priests within the diocese.
Police in St. Paul also accused the archdiocese Tuesday of not fully cooperating with investigations into alleged sexual abuse by priests.
“We have not been given access to any clergy or anybody except attorneys,” said St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith.
However, Smith did not give details on the investigation into Nienstedt.
In a letter to the ministry, Nienstedt said he hasn’t been made aware of who the individual is who made the allegation but presumes “he is sincere in believing what he claims.”
That said, he said the allegation is “absolutely and entirely false.”
“I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor and I have tried to the very best of my ability to serve this archdiocese and the church faithfully, with honor and due regard for the rights of all, even those with whom I disagree,” he stated.
Twin Cities attorney Joe Tamburino says the accusations against Nienstedt may be hard to prove.
“This is going to be very difficult to prove. Only because what we have here is a very delayed allegation,” he said.
The attorney added that even if the allegations are true, if there was no criminal or sexual intent, it would be difficult to convict him.
Nienstedt said he hopes the investigation can be thorough but quick.
“I already long to be back in public ministry,” he wrote.
The archdiocese said in a statement their first priority is to create a safe environment for parishioners.
“The first priority of the archdiocese is to create and maintain safe environments where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can flourish. This starts with creating an environment for and implementing productive steps to promote a healthy clergy. It also means ensuring that clergy, employees, volunteers, and the young are aware of healthy boundaries and the societal problem of sexual abuse,” they state.
Outside the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, parishioners reacted to the news of the accusations with shock.
“In terms of abusing a child, I just don’t believe that,” said Bob Ingram.
But he did say he welcomes even the temporary stepping aside of Nienstedt.
“There is a leadership issue, and I think it is probably healthy for the archdiocese that he step aside.”
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will cover all the archbishop’s public duties during this time.