Nienstedt Denies Misconduct, Said He Was Targeted for Opposing Gay Marriage
By Marino Eccher
July 21, 2016
John Nienstedt, the former archbishop of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, said accusations of sexual misconduct against him were part of a false smear campaign in response to his opposition to gay marriage.
Nienstedt’s denial came in a statement Wednesday night, first issued to KSTP and Minnesota Public Radio. That followed the release of internal church documents alleging the Vatican had sought to derail an independent investigation that turned up credible evidence against him.
Nienstedt resigned last year as archbishop and returned to his home state of Michigan. He was briefly involved with a diocese there but left when parishioners objected to his presence.
|Archbishop John Nienstedt |
He said the accusations — which range from him frequenting gay clubs to making unwanted advances toward priests and seminary students — were decades old and baseless. He said he believes they’re “due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Catholic Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same sex marriage.
“Such personal attacks were first made when I defended the Church’s opposition to admitting openly homosexual men to the priesthood,” he said. “These attacks grew even more vicious when I began to speak out against so-called same sex marriage.”
He said he also thinks the accusers “are bringing false allegations forward in retribution for difficult decisions I have made as their superior,” adding that privacy laws limit what we can say.
Nienstedt said he isn’t gay, has been celibate his whole life, and “never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.”
Some of the accusers said he interfered with their careers after they rebuked his advances. In internal memos released Wednesday, a priest with ties to the investigation said the law firm conducting it — which collected 10 sworn affidavits from accusers and others interviewed — found the allegations to be credible.
Nienstedt also apologized for the way the archdiocese handled sexual abuse allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer, a priest who eventually pleaded guilty to abusing boys. His statement did not address allegations from the internal memos that a social relationship with Wehmeyer compromised his ability to take action.
Meanwhile, a Vatican spokesman said Thursday that “the situation is complex” and that it needs more information before commenting, the Associated Press reported.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of the affidavits about Nienstedt’s conduct. Not all were directly from accusers.
“Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community. 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 lead.
“Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received claims regarding alleged misbehavior involving me. The claims did not involve anything criminal or with minors. The allegations involved events alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago, before I began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“Upon my direction, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis conducted an internal investigation involving those allegations made against me. The allegations were and still are absolutely and entirely false. Nonetheless, at the time I ordered an independent, thorough investigation with an outside firm unaffiliated with the Archdiocese.
“I ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese investigates all allegations of clergy misconduct. It would have been unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I knew them to be false. Since I would have instructed the Archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I ordered the Archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me.
To this day, I have not seen a final report as to the investigation.
“However, I want to be clear and reiterate the public responses that I have made since the investigation began. I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life. I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.
“Quite frankly, I am relieved by the release of the information today. I believe that the allegations have been made as a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Catholic Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same sex marriage. Such personal attacks were first made when I defended the Church’s opposition to admitting openly homosexual men to the priesthood. These attacks grew even more vicious when I began to speak out against so-called same sex marriage. I publicly supported the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota, which would have restricted marriage to one man and one woman. Each time I have spoken out I have received hundreds of threatening, insulting, and sometimes frightening letters, emails, and phone calls, some anonymous
“I also believe that the accusers are bringing false allegations forward in retribution for difficult decisions I have made as their superior. I am governed by privacy and employment laws, which limit what I can say. However, I can say that the allegations were made several years after the alleged conduct was supposed to have occurred.
“I didn’t come forward about the allegations because they are simply not true, and I didn’t want to speak poorly about the men making the allegations. The priests are known to me, and to each other. It is a matter of public record that they do not agree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, and I have consistently taken a stand with the Church on those issues.
“It’s also difficult to defend myself because the allegations are of the “he said, he said” nature. It is my word against the accusers and, as much as they seem to want to discredit me, I don’t want to harm them. I am relieved, however, that the public now knows the extent of the allegations and can hear my response. I pray that by knowing the allegations against me, Catholics in the Archdiocese can continue to move toward healing.”