Documents reveal dismissed criminal case against Archdiocese

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One thousand pages of documents released by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and St. Paul Police detail the criminal investigation into the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. 

Those documents focus heavily on the conduct of former Archbishop John Nienstedt, who resigned 16 months ago.

Criminal charges in the case were dismissed in July as part of broad civil settlement with the Archdiocese.

The documents include a history of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who cruised bookstores and parks for gay sex before he was convicted of sexually assaulting two boys.

Concerns about Wehmeyer’s sexual compulsivity were raised before he even became a priest, when he was still in seminary. According to the documents, Nienstedt “was fond” of Wehmeyer, who even believed Nienstedt was “grooming” him for a sexual encounter.

In an August 2014 interview, Nienstedt dismissed the association.

“Three dinners in three years, it’s not something I wouldn’t have done with any other priest,” Nienstedt said.

The documents, which in some cases are heavily redacted, also include confidential memos that refer to an internal church investigation into the conduct of Nienstedt, carried out by an outside law firm, Greene-Espel. 

The documents refer in several cases to allegations that Nienstedt had lived a “promiscuous gay lifestyle,” when he was priest in the Detroit area, and had sexually harassed several seminarians and young priests during his career. One of the former seminarians told investigators, “I know when I’m being hit on.”

FOX 9 has also obtained a 2014 St. Paul Police investigation into allegations that Nienstedt fondled the buttocks of a boy while pictures were taken at his confirmation at the Cathedral of St. Paul in 2009.  No witnesses saw the alleged fondling. The boy said he did not feel violated, but thought it was “creepy” because Nienstedt had spent his homily talking about the body of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Nienstedt told detectives he didn’t recall the incident, and prosecutors declined to file charges. 

Among the new documents in the case, is a letter Nienstedt wrote to a priest in 2014, thanking him for inviting him to an event at a local parish. Nienstedt writes, “It was a delight to be able to visit with you on Tuesday evening and, ever more so, to be greeted by Father Erik in his pajamas and messed up hair on Wednesday morning.” Father Erik was a young priest at the parish. Nienstedt adds, “(By the way, could you send me the name and address of the senior wrestler who sat next to me at lunch?) All in all, it was a great visit.”

Last July, when similar documents were released by the Ramsey County Attorney, Nienstedt told 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.”

An internal investigation was only partially completed by the law firm Greene-Espel, before it was shut down after focusing on Nienstedt’s sexual conduct. The law firm had sought to interview 22 more individuals who had information regarding Nienstedt’s conduct. That internal investigation was completed by another attorney.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda told a Catholic newspaper in July the investigation was completed in 2015, but he was choosing not to release it, believing most of the pertinent information is already public.  Hebda said releasing the investigation could also compromise the confidentiality of Nienstedt’s accusers.