Nienstedt denies any clergy sexual abuse cover-up, regrets ‘lost confidence’

File under: Same Old Story — Archbishop thinks gay marriage bigger threat than sexually abusive priests


by Madeleine Baran

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he accepts responsibility for addressing the unfolding clergy sexual abuse crisis and regrets that a growing number of parishioners and priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have “lost confidence” in him.


However, he denied any abuse cover-up or illegal actions and repeated the archdiocese’s claim that there are no offending priests in active ministry.

Nienstedt’s remarks came in an e-mailed response to questions from MPR News. It’s the first time the archbishop has answered questions about the scandal since MPR News began publishing investigative reports in late September.

“As head of this local Church, I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised and am completely committed to finding the truth and fixing the problems that exist,” Nienstedt wrote. “My highest priorities are to ensure the safety of our children and to restore the trust of Catholics and our clergy. I will do everything in my power to do so.”

An MPR News investigation found Nienstedt and other top church officials failed to warn parishioners of a priest’s sexual addiction. That priest, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, is serving five years in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography.

Subsequent reports showed the archdiocese kept “borderline illegal” pornography found on the computer of the Rev. Jon Shelley in 2004 and gave extra payments to priests who sexually abused children.

In the Shelley case, police first learned of the images this year when Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer who resigned in April, called authorities. The subsequent police investigation did not find child pornography, though the lead investigator questioned whether the archdiocese turned over all the evidence. St. Paul Police recently reopened the case.

Nienstedt continues to decline interview requests, even as some parishioners and priests now call for his resignation.

Nienstedt’s top deputy, the Rev. Peter Laird, stepped down as vicar general of the archdiocese on Oct. 3. Former Archbishop Harry Flynn resigned as chair of the board of trustees at the University of St. Thomas on Oct. 17.

The departures follow the exit of the Rev. Kevin McDonough as head of the archdiocese’s child safety program last month. McDonough played a central role in clergy sexual abuse cases as vicar general under Flynn and former Archbishop John Roach.

Nienstedt, who replaced Flynn in 2008, said the archdiocese may have violated its own procedures in handling abuse cases.

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