A prominent Catholic cleric has asked the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release details of two investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by former Archbishop John Nienstedt.
The Rev. John Bauer, pastor of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, said refusing to share the archdiocese-commissioned investigations suggests that “the Archdiocese has not been transparent, honest and forthcoming in the information it is has shared with the faithful. …”
“I realize objections will be raised in regard to the release of this material,” Bauer wrote in an open letter Thursday to Archbishop Bernard Hebda, Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer.
“Given the fact that Archdiocesan funds were used, however, I firmly believe that the right of the faithful to this information outweighs any objections. More importantly, I believe that in order for our Archdiocese to rebuild the trust needed for the healing process to begin, full disclosure is essential.”
The archdiocese did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
The letter marks the first time a member of the Twin Cities clergy has publicly solicited the results of the investigations, which the archdiocese commissioned last year after receiving anonymous allegations about misconduct in Nienstedt’s personal life.
It was written by a well-known Twin Cities priest who has not publicly criticized Nienstedt in the past, and it reflects the difficult financial and ethical questions confronting many religious and lay leaders taken aback by Nienstedt’s resignation. Bauer declined to comment further.
The letter, posted on the basilica’s website, specifically requests details from reports by the Greene Espel law firm and by Minneapolis attorney Peter Wold. It also requests any reports about those investigations that the archdiocese prepared for Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s top representative in the United States.
Bauer also asks the cost of those reports, as well as the “financial obligations of the Archdiocese to Archbishop Nienstedt.”
The Star Tribune has confirmed through sources that at least four Catholic priests, one ex-priest and two former seminarians have submitted affidavits in connection with the investigations. Their sworn statements, submitted under penalty of perjury, describe personal encounters with Nienstedt dating as far back as the 1970s, and one accuses Nienstedt of making an unwanted sexual advance to a seminary student and then retaliating when the student rebuffed him.
Nienstedt has said the allegations are “absolutely and entirely false.”
Bauer’s letter elicited mixed reactions Friday that reflect the divisions remaining among Twin Cities Catholics as they grapple with the aftermath of a sweeping sex abuse scandal, the resignation of their archbishop and financial fallout.
Some said releasing the investigations would only prolong an agonizing episode for the church.
“I think it’s time to move on,” said Robert Kennedy, chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. “Pursuing this information, whatever it might be, does not promote that.”
“Whatever information was obtained by investigators was offered with a presumption of confidentiality,” Kennedy added. “Given that, I wonder how much of value would really be made public.”
Jim Frey, a longtime Twin Cities Catholic and former archdiocese donor, disagreed, arguing that airing the reports would give the archdiocese “a clean break” from the past.
“Obviously, what is in these reports is serious and meaningful,” said Frey. “We’ll be better served by clearing the air, rather than have people continue to wonder what’s in them. Otherwise, I believe there will always be a lingering question or mistrust.”
The Rev. Mike Tegeder, pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Church and outspoken Nienstedt critic, said Bauer’s request doesn’t go far enough. He said the public deserves a full accounting not just of how much money the archdiocese spent on these reports, but also of how much it has spent on “paying off or covering up” abusive priests.
Charles Reid, a professor of canon and civil law at the University of St. Thomas, said the archdiocese would be better off taking the initiative and releasing the reports.
“Eventually, the details of these reports are likely to come out,” Reid said. “It would serve the archdiocese to release them on their own terms. This is part of their image going forward. It gives the archdiocese a clean sweep with the past.”
Star Tribune staff writer Tony Kennedy contributed to this report.