Former St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt responds to Vatican lawsuit

Former St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt is responding after a Twin Cities attorney filed a lawsuit against the Vatican, claiming it covered up sexual abuse in the church for decades.

The lawsuit focuses in large part on former St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, alleging he covered up the sexual crimes of Father Curtis Wehmeyer, who plead guilty in 2015. 

Nienstedt sent Fox 9 an email, responding to the parts of the lawsuit which involve him. 

1. The lawsuit reads: 186. On May 2, 2008 Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt replaced Harry Flynn as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Shortly after that, the Archdiocesan Chancellor for Canonical Affairs provided Archbishop Nienstedt with Fr. Wehmeyer's history and information about his problems.

"I was made aware of some challenges Rev. Wehmeyer was facing, but was not made aware that he may be inappropriately or illegally involved with minors."

2. The lawsuit reads: 187. On June 1, 2009, Archbishop Nienstedt promoted Wehmeyer to pastor of Blessed Sacrament, and also made him pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in St. Paul despite his history of sexual misconduct. Official Fr. Peter Laird warned the Archbishop against making Fr. Wehmeyer pastor and indicated that Fr. Wehmeyer was not stable. Fr. Wehmeyer himself asked Archbishop Nienstedt if Archbishop Nienstedt was aware of his past and record. 

"I was unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations against him at the time. Otherwise, I would not have promoted him. I knew that the Archdiocese had placed conditions on Rev. Wehmeyer.  When I became Archbishop, I made sure that he was complying with those conditions, which included regular counseling, attendance at support group meetings, spiritual direction, and monitoring by the Archdiocesan Promoter of Ministerial Standards."

3. The lawsuit reads:  197. In the fall of 2013, Archbishop John Nienstedt, was accused of sexual misconduct, during his time as Archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul and before. The allegations included sexual harassment of priests; unwelcome sexual propositioning of priests of the Archdiocese and Diocese of Detroit; that Archbishop Nienstedt retaliated against a l9-year-old seminarian for refusing to go with Archbishop Nienstedt on a trip by having the seminarian removed from the seminary; that Nienstedt was known to frequent establishments catering to gay clientele in Canada and Detroit and that Archbishop Nienstedt inappropriately touched a boy during a confirmation photograph.

"I categorically deny all of those allegations and I have never used my position to take advantage of anybody."

4. The lawsuit reads: 198. Another of the allegations was that Archbishop Nienstedt had an unusual social relationship with Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer prior to his arrest.

"I have never had an 'unusual social relationship' or really any social relationship with Rev. Wehmeyer. At the time, Rev. Wehmeyer was an Archdiocesan priest and I was his Archbishop.  I had three meals with him over the course of three years."

5. The lawsuit reads: 199. In January 2014, Archbishop Nienstedt agreed to an investigation into the allegations against him.

"As I stated publicly then, the internal investigation was upon my direction, after members of the staff of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis began hearing rumors about me regarding specific interactions with certain priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit more than 35 years prior. These rumors revolved around perceptions of what I had said, places where people believed they saw me, and a gesture someone thought I made. Given the climate of the Church at the time, I had asked that Bishop Lee Piche begin an internal investigation so we would have independent proof that I, in no way, acted immorally, unethically, or illegally. We hired an independent investigator, and I answered all his questions to the best of my ability.

"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."

6. The lawsuit reads: Fr. Dan Griffith, the Archdiocesan Delegate for Safe Environment, was chosen to be the liaison between the investigatinglaw firm, Greene Espel, and the Archdiocese. 200. In a February 2014 meeting, Fr. Griffith presented Greene Espel with a memorandum describing the allegations against Archbishop Nienstedt. Fr. Griffith noted that the social relationship between Archbishop Nienstedt and Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer was one of the most serious issues of the investigation because it may have affected Archbishop Nienstedt's judgment with regard to decisions made about Fr. Wehmeyer. 20I. Between February, 2014, and April,20L4 Greene Espel obtained 10 affidavits describing sexual misconduct by Archbishop Nienstedt, and appeared to discover a personal relationship between Archbishop Nienstedt and Fr. Wehmeyer prior to Fr. Wehmeyer's arrest. Witnesses reported seeing Archbishop Nienstedt leaving Wehmeyer's rectory early in the morning and visiting in the evenings. One witness reported hearing Wehmeyer remark on multiple occasions that he had dinner with Archbishop Nienstedt the previous evening. Other priests described Archbishop Nienstedt interfering with their careers after they refused Archbishop Nienstedt's sexual advances. 

"I categorically deny all of those allegations and I have never used my position to take advantage of anybody. These allegations were, and still are, absolutely and entirely false. That being said, I don’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 preached and taught what the Church teaches on this issue.

"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."

7. The lawsuit reads:  205. The papal nuncio at the time, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, worked with Archbishop Nienstedt in Rome early in their careers. 

"While Archbishop Vigano and I served the Vatican Secretariat of State at the same time, we worked in different departments. I knew him only as 'Monsignor' Vigano."

8. The lawsuit reads: 206, Bishop Cozzens and Bishop Piche met with Archbishop Vigano about Greene Espel's findings about Archbishop Nienstedt. In response, Archbishop Vigano instructed Bishop Cozzens and Bishop Piche that Green Espel was not to pursue any more leads, quickly interview Archbishop Nienstedt, and wrap up the investigation. 

"There were a series of meetings that day. The four of us met together and then, at the Nuncio’s request, he and I met separately and, later, he and the Bishops met separately. At the private meeting with me requested by the Nuncio, I only asked for the opportunity to defend myself and respond to charges as part of this investigation."

9. The lawsuit reads: 210. On June 10,2015, Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned from his position as Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Archbishop Nienstedt remains a priest in good standing. 

"Here was my statement then: In order to give the Archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face, I have submitted my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and I have just received word that he has accepted it.  The Catholic Church is not our Church, but Christ’s Church, and we are merely stewards for a time. My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down.

"It has been my privilege the last seven years to serve this local Church. I have come to appreciate deeply the vitality of the 187 parishes that make up the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I am grateful for the support I have received from priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay leaders, especially those who have collaborated with me in the oversight of this local Church.

"I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

"I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of this Archdiocese and its future leaders. I also ask for your continued prayers for me."

10. The lawsuit reads: 211. In July of 2016,the Archdiocese reached a settlement with the Ramsey County Attomey's Office, in which the Archdiocese admitted wrongdoing for its failure to protect children from Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer in return for the criminal charges against them being dropped. In their admission, the Archdiocese made no mention of the relationship between Fr. Wehmeyer and Archbishop Nienstedt being a reason for the decisions made by Archbishop Nienstedt that led to Fr. Wehmeyer's access to and sexual abuse of minor boys.

"I was made aware of some challenges Rev. Wehmeyer was facing, but was not made aware that he may be inappropriately or illegally involved with minors."