The Quashing of the Investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt
By Joe Soucheray
August 4, 2016
The story inside the story, apparently, was that John Nienstedt, who lived in the house across Summit Avenue from the Cathedral, was himself the subject of an investigation into alleged sexual improprieties. And that furthermore, the Vatican’s guy in Washington, D.C. — the temptation is to write this in the style of Mario Puzo — tried to stuff the investigation.
As the Pioneer Press reported Thursday based on newly available records, the guy in Washington, Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s ambassador, allegedly told Lee Piche and Andrew Cozzens to back off and shut down the investigation into Nienstedt. Piche was then an auxiliary bishop. Cozzens was an auxiliary bishop. Daniel Griffith, the pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, worked with Cozzens and Piche as the liaison between the church and the law firm Greene Espel.
Greene Espel had been hired in January 2014 to investigate claims that Nienstedt had made inappropriate sexual advances over the years on a number of priests, seminary students and other men and that he allegedly sometimes interfered with the careers of the men who turned him down.
|Archbishop John Nienstedt (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)|
Judas Priest, as a guy I knew used to say. In other words, while the archdiocesan boat was taking on water and starting to list with the allegations of those sexual corruptions of children by priests, Nienstedt himself was also being investigated and even signed off on the investigation.
It sounds like Griffith told the law firm: “You are going to have free rein. We want to get to the bottom of this.’’
Four months into the investigation, preliminary findings included 10 sworn affidavits detailing behavior by Nienstedt that sounded simply tawdry but would have an added layer of seriousness if he was, in fact, using his power to influence careers. There was also evidence that Nienstedt had a close relationship with Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to sexually abusing three boys. Nienstedt and Wehmeyer were quite the social couple, apparently. Nienstedt even made Wehmeyer a pastor against the advice of people who apparently knew better than to put that character in charge of anything, much less a parish.
No wonder, thinking back, that there were those of us who were puzzled by why Nienstedt kept such a low profile. We wondered where he was, why he was not speaking out, taking this abuse bull by the horns. Good priests were out there — they still are — doing the labor of the church while this guy, their boss, was not only too quiet about the allegations of abused children, but he himself was under investigation.
We wanted outrage from Nienstedt and we never got it.
In April 2014, Griffith, Piche and Cozzens reviewed the material that had come in from the law firm and agreed that Nienstedt had to go. It apparently isn’t as easy as merely telling him. He was the archbishop of a large archdiocese. Piche and Cozzens went to see Vigano in Washington. Nienstedt went with them. Why, we don’t know, to plead his case?
According to Griffith, Vigano met with the three men and told them to stop looking into new leads and wrap up the investigation. That had to be a strange flight home. Cozzens and Piche persisted. They wrote a letter to Vigano, saying, in effect: “We can’t stop this investigation. It would look like a coverup.’’
Which is exactly what Vigano apparently intended.
Vigano ordered them to take their letter back and put it where the sun don’t shine. He told them to destroy the letter.
Greene Espel, to its credit, said it wasn’t going to fall for a whitewash. And Griffith, who sounds like a crusading soul, along with Cozzens and Piche, urged church officials to rehire the firm.
“This will all come out,’’ Griffith warned.
He was right. This soldier of the Vatican, Vigano, resigned in April 2014. The people at the nuncio’s office in Washington said that there was nobody available to comment.
Nienstedt resigned in June 2015, after criminal charges had been brought against the archdiocese for its failure to protect children. Those charges were dropped last week in exchange for the establishment of new guidelines for accountability and the recognition of failure that Ramsey County Attorney John Choi had always insisted upon.
Bernard Hebda, the current archbishop who had to come here from Newark and clean this up, confessed to the wrongdoing and confessed that the archdiocese had failed to protect children.
Neinstedt has issued a statement saying the allegations against him “were and still are absolutely and entirely false.”
But it makes sense, now, his virtual invisibility during a time when he should have been leading.