The following is an emailed statement to Fox 9 investigative reporter Tom Lyden in response to this story: Family members claim Nienstedt failed to report abusive priest in the 1970s
Dear Mr. Lyden,
I am writing to address questions you recently asked me regarding my cousin’s son. Please allow me to answer your questions.
I want to start with the timeline because I think it’s important. I was ordained as a priest in July 27, 1974, which is important to note because I was not assigned to a parish until I was ordained a priest. I was immediately assigned as an associate pastor at Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson until 1976. During that time, I reconnected with a first cousin and her family as they were members of Guardian Angels parish. The family was very kind to me and opened their home for dinners, family gatherings or simply to enjoy each other’s company. I still remain very grateful to, and a deep regard for, all of them.
During the year and a half I served at Guardian Angels parish, then Father Sam Ritchey, a priest from Columbus, Ohio, whom I met during my schooling at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, would attend school during the summer at Marygrove College in Detroit. I introduced him to my cousin’s family and they were just as generous to him as they were to me during the two summers he was there. In 1976, I returned to Rome to study for my licentiate.
When I did return from Rome in January 1977, as I recall, I stopped by my cousin’s house for a visit, and she and her daughter told me they wanted to talk with me. As I remember, my cousin relayed an incident where her son had driven Father Ritchey to a retreat center. She told me that once they were in his room at the retreat center, Father Ritchey apparently said something inappropriate to her son and placed his hand on her son’s knee. It’s my understanding her son immediately left the retreat house.
It’s my memory that I asked my cousin if she wanted me to talk with her son, and I recall that she said he did not want to talk with anyone about what happened. We continued to discuss the matter, which I took very seriously.
After I left, I contacted Father Ritchey, who denied anything had happened. We did not discuss the matter again. However, I continued to keep in touch with my cousin.
Years later, at lunch with my cousin, she informed me that her son was angry that I did not reach out to him after the incident. After that lunch, I wrote a letter to him which I thought might clarify the matter and reassure him of my closeness to him and his family. But when I saw him at his mother’s funeral and attempted to speak with him, he did not want to speak with me. It was clear he did not want to speak with me, and I wanted to respect that.
More than three decades is a long time ago, and much has changed since then, including how the Church views victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse. I have learned much from talking with members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. I will be forever changed after they invited me to sit with them in one of their support groups and listen to their pain, both from their abuse and how the Church leadership treated them after they reported their abuse. I am sorry for their suffering.
Knowing more now than what I knew then, I can understand how my letter to my cousin’s son could have been, and should have been, more compassionate.
I have also learned that, to someone who has been hurt by a priest, I cannot help them find hope and healing unless they invite me. That is why I literally shut the door on my cousin’s son. To have a TV crew influence and perhaps force that interaction can only cause harm.
I am always open to meet with victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, including those in my own family. I have reached out, but I have to respect those who do not want me, or any priest, as part of their healing. I pray for him daily.
I hope I have answered your questions.
Cordially yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Paul and Minneapolis