Archbishop Nienstedt, accused of improperly touching a boy, steps aside

Archbishop called allegation of touching boy false, won’t take part in public ministry during inquiry.

 

Archbishop John Nienstedt has been accused of inappropriately touching a boy and has removed himself from public ministry while the matter is investigated, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Tuesday.

The young man has alleged that Nienstedt touched his buttocks during a group photo session following a confirmation ceremony in 2009.

Nienstedt called the account “absolutely and entirely false.”

The incident was reported Monday afternoon to St. Paul police, which immediately began an investigation.

St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith declined to comment on the allegation against Nienstedt at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. He said the public can rest assured that his department has assigned adequate resources to investigate that case and other allegations of sexual abuse involving clergy members.

But the chief took exception to the archdiocese’s repeated assertions that it has been cooperating fully with police in those investigations. Smith said his investigators have been denied access to certain clergy members.

“We have, through written and verbal request, made clear our desire to speak to individuals connected with the archdiocese, and we’ve been told, ‘No,’ ” Smith said.

He said that the archdiocese’s former vicar general, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, who handled clergy sex abuse cases for the archdiocese starting in the 1980s, declined, through an attorney, to be interviewed by investigators.

According to a Dec. 4 letter from Smith to Nienstedt, investigators made repeated attempts to interview McDonough, including visiting St. Peter Claver Church on Nov. 19. McDonough is pastor at the St. Paul parish.

“Absent Father McDonough, who at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis would be suited to answer our questions regarding these investigations?” the police chief wrote.

As recently as 2012, McDonough infuriated St. Paul police with the way he and other church leaders handled a child’s explicit sexual abuse allegation against the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who had been promoted by Nienstedt despite earlier reports of sexual misconduct.

Wehmeyer was fired by McDonough from his job as pastor of a St. Paul church in a manner that allowed Wehmeyer to hide evidence in the sex case, police Cmdr. Mary Nash complained earlier this fall. Wehmeyer now is in prison for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

Meeting on Wednesday

The archdiocese said Tuesday it could not speak for McDonough, but that the archdiocese “greatly appreciates the comments by St. Paul Police Chief Smith.” The statement said the new vicar general, the Rev. Charles Lachowitzer, will meet with police on Wednesday, along with an attorney for the church.

“We look forward to the meeting,” the statement said. “The archdiocese seeks to cooperate with the police and all civil authorities.”

Said police spokesman Howie Padilla: “We hope this will be ongoing as there are many questions still to be answered.”

Smith said he welcomes “complete transparency.” Interviews with clergy members are needed to build probable cause for search warrants, he said.

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