St. Paul archbishop says he was unaware of most child sex abuse issues

Attorney says deposition shows pattern of ‘denial and deceit.’

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he was not aware that known child sex abusers were working at the archdiocese during his tenure, nor did he track exactly which priests were being monitored, according to testimony released Tuesday.

Nienstedt’s extraordinary deposition, ordered by a judge and the first of its kind by a serving archbishop in Minnesota, was taken April 2 as part of a clergy sex abuse lawsuit. The claim is one of dozens brought against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis since a change in state law last year opened a wider window for pursuing child sex abuse claims.

Nienstedt said that when he became archbishop in 2008 he was briefed about clergy abuse by key archdiocese officials. He testified he didn’t remember the names of any abusive priests mentioned, how many were being monitored or the names of all the archdiocese officials present.

Nienstedt also said he didn’t request the list of “credibly accused” priests that all dioceses are required to maintain. Nor, he recalled, did he press for parishes to be told about the presence of clergy members who were being monitored because of previous child sexual misconduct reports.

“I believe that we felt that we could monitor the situation without making a total disclosure to the people,” testified Nienstedt, adding that he no longer feels that way.

“I think over my tenure as being archbishop, I have had new insights into how we should proceed with these — these situations,” he said.

The testimony was released at a news conference in the offices of attorney Jeff Anderson, whose St. Paul firm has led the pursuit of abuse cases against the archdiocese. Anderson has accused Catholic Church leaders of refusing to own up to past abuses, and he charged Tuesday that Nienstedt’s sworn statements showed a pattern of “denial and deceit.’’

One of Anderson’s clients, identified as “John Doe 1,” claims he was abused in the 1970s by the Rev. Thomas Adamson at a St. Paul Park church — even after the priest’s sexual misconduct was known to the church.

‘The only mistakes’

During four hours of questioning, Nienstedt said he believed he had made few mistakes in his oversight of child sexual abuse allegations.

“The only mistakes that I know for sure I made was not removing the faculties from Father [Kenneth] LaVan, but I didn’t know that that was happening at the time,” Nienstedt testified. “Once I learned it, I — I acted.”

LaVan was among a half-dozen priests mentioned in the transcript as either in ministry or doing consulting or related work for the archdiocese during Nienstedt’s tenure. In most cases, Nienstedt said he had only recently become aware of their history of abuse.

Nienstedt often testified during the deposition that he could not remember details about child sexual abusers or about conversations with local church officials about abuse cases.

Notes were not taken at some of these meetings, he acknowledged, because he had been advised against it.

Anderson said Nienstedt continued to assure parishioners that children’s safety was a top priority, but he did not remove all offenders from archdiocese work, which ranged from serving in the ministry to consulting work.

The deposition shows that abuse is not just a problem of the past, Anderson said.

“The archbishop and his predecessors have promised zero tolerance,” Anderson said. “But there has been ongoing tolerance” of sexual predators in the archdiocese, he said.

The archdiocese also released the full transcript of the deposition Tuesday morning and said it would have no comment.

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  • Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, far right, showed clips of a deposition with Archbishop John Nienstedt to members of the media Tuesday morning.

  • The sworn testimony of Archbishop John Nienstedt in a clergy sex abuse case was made public Tuesday morning by a St. Paul attorney. Screen capture from video provided by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.

  • The sworn testimony of Archbishop John Nienstedt in a clergy sex abuse case was made public Tuesday morning by a St. Paul attorney. Screen capture from video provided by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.

  • The sworn testimony of Archbishop John Nienstedt in a clergy sex abuse case was made public Tuesday morning by a St. Paul attorney. Screen capture from video provided by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.

  • Archbishop John Nienstedt, shown in December, said he did not request the list of “credibly accused” priests.

  • Archbishop John Nienstedt

    from his deposition

    On first days in archdiocese: “I met with my staff and they affirmed for me the fact that there was no one in ministry who had credibly abused any children.”

    On whether he requested the list of child sex offenders: “It didn’t occur to me.’’

    On sexual abuse cases: “I think over my tenure as being archbishop, I have had new insights into how we should proceed with these — these situations.”

    On assisting with investigations: “Whatever the police ask for, we are cooperative and we give them.”

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