Former Twin Cities Prelate Accused of Ignoring Family Member’s Abuse
May 5, 2016
FILE – In this July 30, 2014 file photo, St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt speaks at his office in St. Paul, Minn. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy related to accusations of mishandling allegations of child abuse, and Nienstedt resigned in June 2015. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig, File)
Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who resigned in June 2015 amid controversy over his handling of sexual abuse allegations, now has been accused of failing to act when a member of his own extended family was molested by a fellow priest.
The charge comes in a May 4 report from a local television station in the Twin Cities, Fox9, and is based on an interview with the alleged victim, Mike Hinske, whose mother is a former Dominican nun and Nienstedt’s cousin.
According to Hinske, the molestation occurred in 1974, when Nienstedt was a newly ordained priest and a frequent guest at the Hinske family home in Michigan. One of the friends Nienstedt brought along was a fellow priest named Father Samuel Ritchey, introducing him to Hinske, who was 16 at the time.
Hinske told a reporter that Ritchey once asked him to give him a ride to a retreat, then invited the teenager to his room and turned off the lights. He described Ritchey removing his clothing, and said, “He did molest me, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Hinske said he told his mother about the incident, who in turn informed Nienstedt, but the future archbishop never discussed it with Hinske himself.
“He never once said ‘Mike, can I talk to you, would you like to talk to me?’” Hinske told Fox9. “I was like the plague to him, he never came near me.”
Ritchey eventually was charged with other acts of abuse in the Diocese of Columbus in Ohio, where he relocated. The charges surfaced in 2005 and date to the 1970s, and Ritchey was removed from the priesthood in 2010.
The Fox9 report quotes from a letter Nienstedt wrote to Hinske shortly after he became the Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
In it, Nienstedt said he had lunch with Hinske’s mother while on vacation in Michigan, and “she indicated to me that you are angry with me over my lack of response to the situation that you faced with Sam Ritchey some years ago.”
Nienstedt said Hinske’s “anger is misplaced,” and, “in point of fact, you never came to me to seek my assistance.”
He also said that he heard about the incident with Ritchey only through Hinske’s mother and sister.
“I assumed from their remarks that you did not want to pursue any legal or ecclesial recourse,” he wrote to Hinske. “Was I supposed to go to the church authorities against your will? I didn’t think that appropriate.”
Contacted by a Fox9 reporter, Nienstedt said he had been told that Hinske had been “propositioned,” not molested.
In his letter to Hinske, Nienstedt also said he had approached Ritchey about the incident, and that “he led me to believe you had completely misconstrued his words and had sensationalized them.”
“At the time,” Nienstedt wrote, “I had no indication that Sam had such proclivities.”
Hinske was insistent that he never indicated he didn’t want Nienstedt to take action.
“How would he know what I wanted him to do” he asked. “He never talked to me. He never came up to me and said, ‘What happened, what do you want me to do?’”
“I would’ve told him what I wanted to do, get that man away from the kids,” Hinske said.
The Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul faces a criminal investigation into possible cover-ups of child abuse charges. It filed for bankruptcy in January of last year, with the total cost of its bankruptcy and related litigation exceeding $5 million.