Portion of investigation of Archbishop Nienstedt is complete

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2014 - 11:11 PM
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Archbishop John Nienstedt

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A Minneapolis law firm hired by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct with adults by Archbishop John Nienstedt has completed its work and submitted a report to church officials.

Attorney Matthew Forsgren of the firm Greene Espel declined to discuss the findings and referred questions to the archdiocese.

The archdiocese commissioned the investigation earlier this summer in an effort to address accusations received by the chancery as Nienstedt fended off mounting criticism over the church’s handling of other sexual misconduct cases.

Lee Piche, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, said in a statement late Tuesday that the Greene Espel report “does not comprise” the entire investigation.

“We need to digest the information and any other information we receive,” said Piche, who was not available to answer questions.

Piche announced July 1 that Nienstedt asked him to investigate claims about the archbishop, which he said were received by the archdiocese several months earlier. Piche said the misconduct allegations “did not involve anything criminal or with minors.”

Nienstedt said at the time that the accusations were “absolutely and entirely false.” He called the allegations “a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”

Nienstedt also said in the July 1 statement that the Apostolic Nuncio, who oversees all bishops in the United States, was informed of the allegations and will be informed of the results of the investigation.

Earlier this year, St. Paul Police investigated an allegation that the archbishop touched a middle-school student on the buttocks during a photo session after a religious confirmation ceremony. Authorities closed the case, saying they considered it “unlikely” any improper touching occurred.

The Roman Catholic archbishop plans to talk with some members of the news media on Wednesday.

Nienstedt has been under fire for weeks from critics inside and outside the church, including a growing collection of newspaper editorial pages, over its controversial handling of a long string of cases of sexual misconduct by priests. In recent weeks, the New York Times, the Star Tribune editorial page and a St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist have called for Nienstedt to resign or be ousted by the Vatican.

The law firm’s probe had been a secret until a Catholic magazine wrote a blog item about it in late June. The magazine, Commonweal, quoted Nienstedt’s former canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, as saying she had been interviewed by Greene Espel lawyers.

Haselberger told the magazine that the archdiocese received allegations of improper sexual conduct by Nienstedt with seminarians, priests and other men. She said the archbishop also was accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.

The allegations appear to stem as far back as the 1980s and 1990s, when Nienstedt was working in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

But Haselberger also told Commonweal that investigators asked her about Nienstedt’s relationship with Curtis Wehmeyer, a former St. Paul priest with a history of sexual misconduct when Nienstedt promoted him to be a pastor. In that assignment on St. Paul’s East Side, Wehmeyer was convicted of sexually abusing two boys in 2012 who attended his church.

 

Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

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