MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being investigated for, among other claims, allegedly making unwanted sexual advances toward a former Twin Cities priest, according to a report by Commonweal Magazine.
After receiving information about the allegations in late 2013, the archdiocese hired an outside law firm to investigate the accusation, selecting Minneapolis firm Green Espel. The investigation is not related to the December 2013 accusation that Nienstedt touched a boy’s buttocks during a confirmation photo shoot — where charges were not filed.
In a statement, Nienstedt said he ordered the investigation himself after the claims were made against him. He did not detail the nature of the allegations, but said they are “absolutely and entirely false.” He added that they do not involve minors or lay members and do not suggest anything illegal.
The former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, says that she believes investigators have received about 10 sworn statements accusing Nienstedt of sexual impropriety. She said the accusations of sexual misconduct were all made by “adult men,” and she added that Nienstedt personally reached out to former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, even after he had been arrested for molesting two St. Paul boys.
Nienstedt is also accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or questioned his conduct.
The accusations date back to his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Being a Catholic priest, Nienstedt took a vow of celibacy, and he’s said on several occasions that homosexuality is a sin. Under his leadership, the archdiocese spent hundreds of thousands of dollars campaigning for the unsuccessful 2012 Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage.
“Our understanding of marriage between a man and a woman predates any government or, in fact, any religious denomination,” he said.
Despite the church’s stance, a former priest named Patrick Wall says relationships between male clergy members are not rare.
“It happens all the time,” he said.
At 33, Wall left the church after working in Minnesota and in Rome. He now works on church child sex abuse cases.
“In the old days, the term is ‘particular friendships’ that there will be two priests or two monks that are extremely close friends, and it’s pretty well known internally even though it’s not spoken about directly,” Wall said. “This is a common issue and it’s something the church needs to deal with.”
In this written statement, Nienstedt denies the allegations:
Upon my direction, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is conducting an internal investigation involving allegations made against me. These allegations are absolutely and entirely false. Nonetheless, I ordered Bishop Lee Piche’ to oversee an independent, thorough investigation and that he hire an outside firm unaffiliated with the Archdiocese to conduct the investigation.
The allegations do not involve minors or lay members of the faithful, and they do not implicate any kind of illegal or criminal behavior. The allegations involve events alleged to have occurred at least decade ago, before I began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
I have ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese investigates all allegations of clergy misconduct. It would be unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I know them to be false. Since I would instruct the Archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I have ordered the Archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me.
The investigation is ongoing. The Apostolic Nuncio, who oversees all bishops in the United States, has been informed of the allegations and he will be informed of the results of the investigation when it is completed. Let us pray that the truth will come out as a result of the investigation.
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