St. Paul Archbishop Said He Tried to Limit "Total Disclosure" of Suspected Abusive Priests, but Has Changed Approach
By Emily Gurnon
April 22, 2014
|The Rev. Michael Keating (Courtesy photo)|
Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a sworn deposition that he learned early on about priests who had been accused of sexually abusing children but believed only "certain people in parishes" needed to know.
Nienstedt said he has since changed his mind about that.
Plaintiff's attorney Jeff Anderson and his co-counsel Michael Finnegan made public Tuesday the 200-page transcript and video clips from Nienstedt's April 2 deposition, taken as part of a lawsuit by an alleged abuse victim.
As Anderson held his news conference, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released the transcript to the media and posted it on its website. It later posted the entire video deposition.
Anderson said in response to questions that Nienstedt lied during the deposition and that he "has disqualified himself from the position" of archbishop.
Anderson did not point to specific statements by Nienstedt. He said the prelate engaged in a "serious pattern of deceit and denial" as Anderson questioned him on child sex abuse by priests and the response by the archdiocese.
In response to Anderson's accusations, archdiocese spokesman Jim Accurso referred a reporter to the deposition transcript. Accurso also pointed out that Anderson did not ask Nienstedt about alleged abuse victim Doe 1, within whose lawsuit the deposition was ordered.
Nienstedt said during the approximately four-hour deposition that he met with his top deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, and other advisers shortly after taking over the archdiocese in 2007.
"Father McDonough informed me that as part of our procedures, we would disclose to certain people in parishes where -- where priests (accused of abuse) had served," he said.
Anderson asked how it was determined who would get the information.
"My recollection is ... it was the pastor and the trustees of the parish," Nienstedt said.
Didn't the parishioners and the public have a right to know? Anderson asked.
"I believe that we felt that we could monitor the situation without making a total disclosure to the people," Nienstedt said. Asked if he still felt that way, he said, "No. I do not."
Anderson said Tuesday that the deposition captures "the harsh reality that the promises and the pledges made by this archbishop and his predecessors -- that the kids in our communities are safe -- are not true and have been broken."
Nienstedt leads an archdiocese that has pledged "zero tolerance" for priest sexual abuse and yet kept alleged offenders in ministry, Anderson said. Those included priests Michael Keating of the University of St. Thomas and Kenneth LaVan, according to the deposition.
Keating was accused in 2006 of sexually abusing a teenage girl.
He kept working until the girl sued in 2013. Anderson represents her. LaVan allegedly abused two minor girls in the 1980s, but was not removed until 2013, Anderson said.
Excerpts from the deposition include the following:
-- Nienstedt agreed he had said publicly that there were no "offending" priests in ministry in the archdiocese. Anderson then asked, "At any time since your installation have you received any information from any source that causes you to want to change any of the statements you have made about the safety of children in this archdiocese?"
Nienstedt replied, "Just in the last month, I did discover that there was a priest who had offended who retired, but continued periodically to celebrate Mass on weekends, and I was not aware of his presence and I was not aware that he was publicly in ministry. And as soon as I realized it, I had his faculties removed."
That priest was LaVan, whose name was released by the archdiocese in February after a consultant's review of clergy files identified him as one with "credible claims against (him) of sexual abuse of a minor."
-- Nienstedt said in response to questions about Keating that the alleged incidents happened before his time as archbishop. "I was aware that something was going on when I became coadjutor because I knew a relative of the person who was involved in the case, but I didn't know ... wasn't privy to ... all the details of the case."
-- McDonough, who served for 17 years as vicar general, or top deputy, to the archbishop and for part of that time as chief point person on priest sexual abuse, did a good job of protecting children, Nienstedt said.
He himself was doing a good job of that, too, he said.
The one decision he disagreed with, Nienstedt said, was when McDonough failed to alert him and parish trustees to the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer's DWI arrest. Wehmeyer was convicted of DWI in 2009. The one-time priest of Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul was convicted last year of abusing two boys in 2010 and is serving five years in prison.
-- Nienstedt said that until Wehmeyer was arrested June 22, 2012, he was not aware of an allegation of child sexual abuse against him. He said a June 18 date cited in a document he signed regarding the charges was "incorrect." Nienstedt is required by law to report suspected child abuse within 24 hours.
-- Anderson asked the archbishop if he had ever said to one of his staff, " 'I want to review the file of Father X,' " and get it turned over in its entirety "so you could make a fully informed decision about what to do or not to do? Have you personally ever done that?" Nienstedt responded: "I don't recall that I have."
-- Nienstedt said he was unaware that the Rev. Michael Stevens, convicted in Anoka County in the 1980s of sexually abusing a child, was removed from ministry in 2002, yet continued until recently to work on computer technology at parishes. But Nienstedt said he knew Stevens was in an internal monitoring program.
-- Regarding convicted child molester Gilbert Gustafson, Nienstedt said he did not know the former priest was receiving disability payments from the archdiocese's insurance company for his diagnosis of pedophilia and only recently learned he was working as a consultant at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis.
-- Anderson asked Nienstedt: "Have you at any time reprimanded, punished, demoted or taken any disciplinary action against any priest or official of the archdiocese for their mishandling of child sexual abuse allegations?" Nienstedt said he didn't believe so. Neither did he think he should have, he said.
-- The archbishop said that his office voluntarily released in December the list of 33 priests "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse up to 2002. Those were names compiled by church officials as part of a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Anderson pressed him, saying he had attempted for years through legal channels to force disclosure of those names.
Nienstedt said the archdiocese had chosen to release the names "in an attempt to be transparent with our publics, with the Catholics in the pew, because the media had made such a big deal out of the John Jay list."
-- Questioning also focused on the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, who archdiocese officials found in 2004 had pornography on his computer. The man who found the pornography believed that some of it depicted minors. He gave the hard drive to the archdiocese, which had an investigator review it. The archdiocese did not turn it over to police until 2013, when then-Chancellor for Canonical Affairs Jennifer Haselberger contacted the Ramsey County attorney's office. Haselberger resigned in April 2013 in protest of what she said was poor handling by archdiocese officials of sexual abuse allegations.
-- The archdiocese hired a private consulting group, Kinsale Management Consulting, in November to examine its priest files. Anderson asked Nienstedt why he has not turned over all the files of the "credibly accused" priests to law enforcement.
Nienstedt said Kinsale is "still in the process of doing that" review "and I'm waiting for that -- results of that to be able to -- to do exactly what you're suggesting." Anderson told the archbishop he thought that delay could put children at risk.
The deposition, which archdiocese attorneys fought, went forward after the Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to consider an appeal by the archdiocese of a Ramsey County judge's ruling.
District Judge John Van de North's decision came in a lawsuit filed in May by a man identified as Doe 1. He alleges former priest Thomas Adamson molested him in 1976 or 1977 when Adamson served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.
Anderson said Tuesday that his office had turned over the deposition, as well as all priest files it had received in the last several weeks, to the police.
Howie Padilla, a St. Paul police spokesman, said Anderson provided police with the deposition April 15. Police also received other new information from Anderson, he said.
"When new information presents itself, we'll examine that information and determine in which direction it takes us," Padilla said Tuesday.
Nienstedt became co-adjutor bishop for the Twin Cities archdiocese in April 2007. He served in that position -- essentially then-Archbishop Harry Flynn's successor -- until he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the archdiocese in 2008.
Mara H. Gottfried contributed to this report. Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.