After Document Release, Archbishop Nienstedt Maintains Misconduct Allegations Are False
By Maria Wiering
August 2, 2016
With the closure of the criminal case, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office made public documents from its investigation of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, including memos and affidavits addressing an inquiry of whether Archbishop John Nienstedt, then head of the archdiocese, may have mishandled a clergy sex abuse case because of his friendship with former priest Curtis Wehmeyer and his own alleged sexual misconduct.
The documents include references to an internal investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt the archdiocese initiated in January 2014 into allegations of sexual misconduct as a priest and bishop of Detroit and New Ulm.
In a statement to The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop Nienstedt reiterated that the allegations are “absolutely and entirely false” and said he was “relieved by the release of the information.” He stated that he is heterosexual and has been celibate his whole life.
“I believe that the allegations have been made as 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,” he said, acknowledging the “he said, he said” nature of the allegations. “It is my word against the accusers, and, as much as they want to seem to discredit me, I don’t want to harm them.”
Among documents released by the county attorney July 20, 2016, was a memo written on July 7, 2014, by Father Daniel Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis and then the archdiocese’s delegate for safe environment, who outlined the investigation from his perspective. He stated that the information gathered up to that point by the investigators, attorneys from the Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel, prompted several archdiocesan leaders to conclude that Archbishop Nienstedt might need to resign. Father Griffith wrote one leader “stated that even if the archbishop was innocent, the evidence was damaging enough that it would render him incapable of leading the archdiocese.”
According to the memo, Bishop Lee Piche and fellow auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens presented the information to the apostolic nuncio, or papal representative, to the U.S., then Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in April 2014, hoping to reach a “pastoral resolution.” Father Griffith’s memo speculates that Archbishop Nienstedt “may have convinced” Archbishop Vigano that the allegations were false. The memo also indicates that the nuncio may have asked archdiocesan leaders to have Greene Espel bring the investigation to a conclusion after interviewing Archbishop Nienstedt.
According to the memo, Greene Espel withdrew as counsel in early July. Father Griffith’s memo alleged that not allowing the original investigators to complete the investigation as initially proposed would be seen as a “cover-up.”
According to Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who succeeded Archbishop Nienstedt as the archdiocese’s leader, Greene Espel submitted a concluding report in late July that reflected the investigation’s narrowed scope, in which the investigators identified further inquiries that could be made. Bishop Piche hired Minneapolis attorney Peter Wold to follow up on those inquiries and submit a report. The archdiocese sent both reports to the nuncio in 2015. (See Archbishop Hebda elaborates on charge dismissal, Archbishop Nienstedt investigation.)
Archbishop Nienstedt resigned his position in the archdiocese in June 2015, following the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office filing of criminal charges and a civil petition against the archdiocese on its handling of the Wehmeyer case, in which the former priest sexually abused three brothers who were his parishioners at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.
“Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “In particular, I am sorry for the way the archdiocese, under my leadership, addressed the allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer. As the archbishop, I should have asked more questions, I should have demanded more answers, and I should have insisted those within the archdiocesan administration at the time share more information with each other. I am sorry. I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of the archdiocese, its leaders and all those hurt by those who have led.”