Commonweal reports that Minneapolis-St. Paul Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt is under a church-instigated investigation for allegedly having sex with at least 10 men who have reportedly signed sworn statements attesting to this. Excerpt:
The archbishop agreed to hire an outside law firm to investigate the accusation. By early 2014, the archdiocese had selected the top-ranked Minneapolis firm of Greene Espel. Nienstedt, along with auxiliary bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzens, flew to Washington, D.C., to inform the apostolic nuncio of the allegations. Over the course of the investigation, lawyers have interviewed current and former associates and employees of Nienstedt—including [former archdiocesan top canon lawyer Jennifer] Haselberger, who resigned in protest in April 2013.
“Based on my interview with Greene Espel—as well as conversations with other interviewees—I believe that the investigators have received about ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Haselberger told me. What’s more, “he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”
The allegations are nothing more than 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,” Nienstedt said in a written statement. He also suspects that accusers are coming forward because of “difficult decisions” he has made, but, citing privacy laws, he would not elaborate.
“I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone,” Nienstedt told me. “The allegations are a decade old or more, prior to my service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” he continued, emphasizing that “none of the allegations involve minors or illegal or criminal behavior.” The “only accusation,” Nienstedt explained, is of “improper touching (of the person’s neck),” and was made by a former priest.
I hope the investigation clears the archbishop. If there really are ten sworn statements, however, it’s hard to imagine a conspiracy that broad to smear the archbishop. But who knows anymore with these bishops?
If the investigation does substantiate the allegations, Nienstedt will have given opponents of the Church’s religious freedom a tremendous victory. Why? From Commonweal:
Nienstedt was named an auxiliary bishop of Detroit in 1996, and became bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, in 2001. Just six years later he was appointed coadjutor of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He was installed as archbishop in 2008. Before long, Nienstedt had established one of the signature issues of his episcopate: homosexuality. His statements on that issue add controversy to the investigation of his own behavior.
“Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts…formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin,” Nienstedt wrote late in 2007. That echoed a column he wrote the year before—while bishop of New Ulm—cautioningCatholics against watching Brokeback Mountain, a film about two married cowboys who fall for one another. He wondered whether Hollywood knew just how dangerous their “agenda” was: “Surely they must be aware that they have turned their backs on God and the standards of God in their quest to make evil look so attractive.”
Before the 2010 midterm elections, Nienstedt turned his attention to the burgeoning gay-marriage movement. He recorded an introduction on a DVD opposing gay marriage, which was sent to four hundred thousand Minnesota Catholics. The same year a Catholic mother wrote to him pleading for acceptance for her gay son. He recommended she consult the Catechism. “Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversation [sic] of heart on this topic,” he replied. And in 2012, Nienstedt led a coalition of religious leaders pushing for an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Reportedly, Nienstedt committed $650,000 to those efforts. The amendment failed.
You might be wondering: why would an archbishop with such a compromised past be willing to go out in public leading this kind of crusade? Surely, you might be thinking, the fact that Nienstedt did campaign so vocally against gay rights makes it hard to believe these accusations against him. What kind of bishop would take that kind of crazy risk?
Well, Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, for one. He was a high-profile campaigner against gay marriage as the Scottish prelate, but last year was sacked by Rome after being forced to admit that the allegations of gay sexual misconduct against him were true.
This bears watching. If the Nienstedt accusations prove true, it is hard to think of a worse time for them to come to light, re: the national debate over religious liberty and gay rights.