Nienstedt Drafted Letter to Vatican about Porn on Hugo Priest's Computer, Report Says

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
October 8, 2013

Archbishop John Nienstedt, is shown in a Sept. 4, 2013 photo blessing the audience at a seminar about immigration at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Minnesota Public Radio, Jennifer Simonson)

Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis drafted a letter to the Vatican last year asking whether pornography found on a Hugo priest's computer could "expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution," according to a copy obtained by Minnesota Public Radio.

The letter was provided to St. Paul police by Jennifer Haselberger, a former archdiocese official who said it was never mailed.

In a letter to Cardinal William Levada, Nienstedt said the pornographic images were found on the Rev. Jonathan Shelley's computer hard drive before he became archbishop.

Therefore, Nienstedt said in the letter dated May 29, 2012, he was "unable to comment as to why this matter was not reported to you at that time," as required by a papal order of 2001.

The letter provides more detail about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of archdiocese officials regarding the discovery of Shelley's computer.

A St. Paul police investigation, prompted when Haselberger reported the pornography to the Ramsey County attorney's office last year, was closed Sept. 29 for lack of evidence, but was reopened Tuesday, police said.

In the initial investigation, authorities found only adult pornography on computer discs provided by the archdiocese.

But a private investigator hired by the archdiocese concluded that some images were "borderline illegal, because of the youthful looking male image."

The archdiocese refused to give its investigator's report to police.

The archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. It said Sunday that recent news reports on Shelley and another priest have prompted it to convene an independent task force to review "all issues related to clergy misconduct."

The Hugo man who initially turned over Shelley's hard drive to the archdiocese said that he remembered last week that he had made his own copy of the data files. A police investigator picked up that evidence Friday.

Rev. Jonathan Shelley (handout photo)

In another document obtained by a radio reporter, Haselberger discloses her concern, as expressed to Nienstedt, about the Shelley case. In a letter to the archbishop in May 2012, Haselberger said the archdiocese in 2004 asked Shelley to allow church officials to examine two personal computers.

"When he received that request, Father Shelley immediately destroyed one of the computers, and while he initially indicated he would permit an analysis of the third computer, he changed his mind and never provided the archdiocese with access to it," Haselberger wrote.

Shelley was pastor at St. Jude of the Lake parish in Mahtomedi when the porn was found. He was temporarily suspended because of "an allegation of inappropriate activity," according to a parish letter to members Sept. 24, 2004.

The decision was made "as a result of discussions between the vicar general of the archdiocese (Kevin McDonough), Father Jon and the trustees of our parish," according to the letter, which was obtained by MPR.

The archdiocese initiated an investigation, the letter said.

Concerns about Shelley had surfaced years earlier, according to the 2012 letter from Nienstedt to the Vatican.

Nienstedt wrote that before Shelly's 1995 ordination, "concerns were brought to the attention of the archdiocese regarding then seminarian/Deacon Shelley and his interactions with teenage male retreatants at Dunrovin Retreat Center. No sexual contact between Father Shelley and the young men was alleged, but a fellow counselor at the Retreat Center reported that Father Shelley wrestled with the boys in the swimming pool and otherwise had difficulties maintaining proper boundaries between himself and the (boys).

"This was investigated, determined to be a matter of poor judgment, and Father Shelley was allowed to proceed in formation," the letter said.

Other events leading to questions about Shelley included his allowing an 18-year-old parishioner to live in the parish offices during a dispute with his parents, according to the letter.

Haselberger also gave to police a copy of a undated letter Shelley had written to singer Neil Diamond.

He had attended "well over 100" concerts of Diamond's, Shelley wrote, but was considering skipping his next show in St. Paul because of an upsetting encounter with Diamond's guitarist.

Jennifer Haselberger (AP Photo/Minnesota Public Radio, Jennifer Simonson)

He wrote that guitarist Hadley Hockensmith had accused him of "indiscretions with young boys" in an email to two friends in February 2012.

Shelley denied the accusations. He also has recently denied to reporters that he had child pornography on his computer.

Haselberger resigned in April as chancellor for canonical affairs.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her on









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