ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Documents released Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court detail allegations of former Archbishop John Nienstedt’s “gay lifestyle” in his early days as a priest and bishop in Detroit. The documents also point to an alleged cover-up at the direction of a Vatican official.
A confidential memo from the Delegate for Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, dated Nov. 22, 2013, raises concerns that Nienstedt’s past behavior may have affected his decisions involving Father Curtis Wehmeyer. In Dec. 2015, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi filed 6 criminal child endangerment charges against the archdiocese "to hold it criminally accountable for its failure to protect children." The church was accused of keeping Father Curtis Wehmeyer in the ministry despite knowledge of his sexual misconduct. Wednesday morning, Choi agreed to drop the 6 criminal charges as part of an updated civil settlement. KEEP READING - Criminal charges dropped, Twin Cities Archdiocese admits wrongdoing
Allegations in the confidential memo
“A priest in Detroit has alleged that while staying overnight at the rectory of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan (then) Fr. Nienstedt sexually solicited him. The alleged advance was not reciprocated. In a discussion with the source, wherein the incident was recounted, the priest stated: ‘I know when I’m being hit on.’”
A former priest discussed an incident in Michigan where Bishop Nienstedt “began massaging his neck” while he was driving.
Another priest said that a number of years ago he was in Detroit for a conference, shortly after Nienstedt was named coadjutor archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A number of priests told him about Nienstedt’s “promiscuous gay lifestyle” while serving as a priest in Detroit and while living in Rome.
A “reputable source” from Detroit who serves on the board of directors at the University of St. Thomas in the Twin Cities allegedly told other board members that many people from the Detroit Archdiocese knew about Nienstedt’s promiscuous gay lifestyle while he was serving as a priest.
The spouse of a chancery official said they received a number of calls from men with whom she works in the Twin Cities arts industry. The callers told her that they have direct knowledge that Archbishop Nienstedt was “active in a gay lifestyle while serving as a priest in Detroit.”
In the last 4 to 5 weeks before the memo was published, Nienstedt received several anonymous letters postmarked from different cities. All of the letters reference a place called the Happy Tap – a gay bar and strip club in Windsor, Canada, across the river from Detroit. The letter writers allege to remember Nienstedt and ask if he remembers them. They also urge Nienstedt to “come out” and resign soon.
These allegations were presented to Nienstedt in a memo in Nov. 2015. Nienstedt indicated he is not gay and denied these allegations. He also acknowledged that he has been “dogged by these rumors for several years.”
"I want to be clear and reiterate the public responses that I have made since the investigation began," Nienstedt said in a statement to Fox 9. "I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life. I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse." Read his full statement below
A memo dated April 20, 2014 says “nearly everyone interviewed has been willing to backup their testimony in a sworn statement,” and that all were found to be credible.
In his memo to archdiocese leaders, the Delegate for Safe Environment wrote "it did not matter whether the behavior was of a homosexual or heterosexual character. Sexual misconduct is a violation of the moral law and the code of canon law, and it did not matter in the present case of the Archbishop what type (gay or straight) of alleged misconduct was involved."
Relationship with Wehmeyer
A July 7, 2014 memo from the Delegate for Safe Environment raises concerns over Nienstedt's social relationship with Father Wehmeyer, "which may have affected his judgment regarding Wehmeyer's past misconduct, as well as the Archbishop's controversial decision to name him Pastor of Blessed Sacrament." There were also concerns that Nienstedt's alleged sexual misconduct "further affected his judgment" in Wehmeyer's case.
"Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community," Nienstedt said in a statement to Fox 9. "In particular, I am sorry for the way the Archdiocese, under my leadership, addressed the allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer. As the Archbishop, I should have asked more questions, I should have demanded more answers, and I should have insisted those within the Archdiocesan administration at the time share more information with each other.
'A good old fashioned cover-up'
A July 7, 2014 memo to Bishop Lee Piche said a call Piche received from Carlo Maria Vigan, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, was "the turning point in the investigation." The memo says Nienstedt had a phone conversation with the Nuncio following a meeting with Piche and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, and that Nienstedt may have convinced the Vatican that the allegations against him were false. The Nuncio then ordered the archdiocese lawyers to quickly interview Nienstedt and "wrap up the investigation."
"The Nuncio said that the lawyers were not to pursue any further leads, including an allegation referenced by many of the affiants in Detroit that Archbishop Nienstedt may have had sexual relations with a Swiss Guardsman in Rome."
After Easter, Bishop Piche allegedly ordered the attorneys to "narrow the focus of their investigation to the questions of whether a crime or a grave delict had been committed" by Nienstedt.
The July 2014 memo voices concern over an alleged directive from the Nuncio to destroy evidence against Nienstedt. The the Delegate for Safe Environment says "I sincerely hope and trust that you and/or Bishop Cozzens did not comply with this shocking request."
The memo advises the archdiocese to re-engage with its law firm to complete a thorough investigation as originally promised, or to publicly separate.
"It only takes one reporter's question...to call and inquire of Greene Espel regarding the investigation," the memo stated. "Their truthful and appropriate response will be 'we no longer represent the Archdiocese.'"
The memo draws the following conclusion:
"The reality of this current matter demonstrates that as the evidence began to come into the Archdiocese from our skilled and independent investigators, apparently some in the Archdiocese and some beyond the Archdiocese were not able to face the reality of emerging truth and its attendant call for accountability. What has unfolded in the face of compelling evidence amounts to a good old fashioned cover-up to preserve power and avoid scandal and accountability."
Statement from former Archbishop John Nienstedt
"Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community. In particular, I am sorry for the way the Archdiocese, under my leadership, addressed the allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer. As the Archbishop, I should have asked more questions, I should have demanded more answers, and I should have insisted those within the Archdiocesan administration at the time share more information with each other. I am sorry. I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of the Archdiocese, its leaders, and all those hurt by those who have lead.
"Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received claims regarding alleged misbehavior involving me. The claims did not involve anything criminal or with minors. The allegations involved events alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago, before I began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"Upon my direction, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis conducted an internal investigation involving those allegations made against me. The allegations were and still are absolutely and entirely false. Nonetheless, at the time I ordered an independent, thorough investigation with an outside firm unaffiliated with the Archdiocese.
"I ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese investigates all allegations of clergy misconduct. It would have been unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I knew them to be false. Since I would have instructed the Archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I ordered the Archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me.
To this day, I have not seen a final report as to the investigation.
"However, I want to be clear and reiterate the public responses that I have made since the investigation began. I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life. I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.
"Quite frankly, I am relieved by the release of the information today. I believe that the allegations have been made as a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Catholic Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same sex marriage. Such personal attacks were first made when I defended the Church’s opposition to admitting openly homosexual men to the priesthood. These attacks grew even more vicious when I began to speak out against so-called same sex marriage. I publicly supported the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota, which would have restricted marriage to one man and one woman. Each time I have spoken out I have received hundreds of threatening, insulting, and sometimes frightening letters, emails, and phone calls, some anonymous
"I also believe that the accusers are bringing false allegations forward in retribution for difficult decisions I have made as their superior. I am governed by privacy and employment laws, which limit what I can say. However, I can say that the allegations were made several years after the alleged conduct was supposed to have occurred.
"I didn’t come forward about the allegations because they are simply not true, and I didn’t want to speak poorly about the men making the allegations. The priests are known to me, and to each other. It is a matter of public record that they do not agree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, and I have consistently taken a stand with the Church on those issues.
"It’s also difficult to defend myself because the allegations are of the “he said, he said” nature. It is my word against the accusers and, as much as they seem to want to discredit me, I don’t want to harm them. I am relieved, however, that the public now knows the extent of the allegations and can hear my response. I pray that by knowing the allegations against me, Catholics in the Archdiocese can continue to move toward healing."
Statement from archdiocese attorney Joe Dixon
"The Ramsey County Attorney's Office and the St. Paul Police Department have fully and thoroughly investigated the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and its leaders for 3 years. They have reviewed each of the documents made public today and investigated the allegations raised in those documents. Today, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told the public there is no basis to bring a criminal charge against any of those leaders. He also dismissed all of the criminal charges against the Archdiocese. That dismissal is unconditional and speaks for itself."
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