Archbishop John Nienstedt declares he won’t step down

In interview, archbishop says local Catholic Church has turned the corner on clergy sex abuse scandal.

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Archbishop John Nienstedt

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Archbishop John Nienstedt declared he will not resign as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and insisted the archdiocese has turned the corner on the clergy abuse scandal and is now “in a much better place.”

In a series of media interviews Wednesday — his first in six years — and in a column published Thursday in the Catholic Spirit newspaper, Nienstedt apologized for the “distractions” of the controversy and acknowledged he had lost the confidence of some followers — but that he was working to earn that back.

In his 20-minute interview with the Star Tribune, a poised Nienstedt calmly took on questions on clergy sex abuse, the financial stability of the church and his own sexuality.

The archbishop, under growing criticism to step down because of how the archdiocese handled priests who sexually abused children, said he would leave only if the papal nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States, “took action” on his leadership.

“And I would have to be convinced that my effectiveness to lead the archdiocese was nil,” he said. “And I don’t believe it is. I have strong pockets of support. And other pockets that aren’t supportive. I’m working on that.”

Nienstedt’s rare move into the spotlight came after lawyers for the archdiocese submitted a report to the church body on their investigation into allegations that he had been involved in misconduct with adults.

The report is under review, church officials say.

Nienstedt said he believed that the investigation involved five allegations of sexual impropriety, including from the time he served in the Detroit Archdiocese in the 1990s.

The allegations were made by priests and seminarians.

The archbishop denied that he was a homosexual or engaged in homosexual acts.

“I’m not gay,” he said. “And I’m not anti-gay.”

When he led the charge for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota in 2012, he said he was only arguing that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“It wasn’t to put down people with same-sex attractions,” he said.

When asked why Catholic priests and seminarians alleged he had same-sex attraction, Nienstedt responded, “I have no idea.”

“But I made a lot of enemies by the stands I’ve taken in Detroit and here,” he said. “I assume it feeds into that.”

Nienstedt didn’t know when the investigation would be complete.

However, when it is, he said it would be sent to the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C., and a “statement will be made.” He didn’t know if the report would be made public.

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