Survivors sue Vatican in sexual abuse scandal, focus on former Twin Cities archbishop

A Twin Cities attorney is suing the Vatican, claiming it covered up sexual abuse in the church for decades. "Exhibit A” in the suit is the former archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  

“The real problem is at the top. It's at the Vatican. It's at the Pope,” said attorney Jeff Anderson.

Anderson was surrounded by survivors of church sex abuse when he announced the lawsuit Wednesday, during a news conference in California. 

“This suit is all about transparency and honesty," said survivor Jim Keenan. "People have asked me what's my end game. My end game is this. Can we figure out why the church doesn't follow the law?". 

“I am asking them to disclose all of the secrets. It's time,” said survivor Kathy Stonebreaker. 

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. 

Anderson takes it a step further. 

“Nienstedt was not only in the middle of the cover-up of a very serious recent offender by the name of Curtis Wehmeyer in the documents that are posted, but he was having a relationship with that predator priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. A relationship,” Anderson said. 

The lawsuit also alleges that when Nienstedt led a seminary in Detroit, he interfered with the careers of seminarians when they refused his sexual advances. 

These are just some of the reasons why Nienstedt is such a large part of the case that stretches from Minnesota to Rome. 

“This suit alleges that the Pope, the Vatican and every predecessor to him are engaged in a large scale systemic violation of the human rights of children in allowing children to be raped and to be violated,” Anderson said. 

Fox 9 reached out to Nienstedt for comment, he has not responded.

Tim O’Malley, Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis issued the following statement:

“Archbishops and bishops, like priests, must be held accountable. The direct involvement of objective and competent laity in an accountability process will promote integrity and is necessary for the process to have credibility with the public. This is critically important to the health and wellbeing of the Church today.  We, in this Archdiocese, fully support the establishment of an independent board, with lay person involvement and leadership, to investigate and fairly address accusations of misconduct against bishops and archbishops. An oversight board similar in make-up, competence, and authority to our Archdiocesan Ministerial Review Board should be empaneled on a regional or national basis as soon as is possible."

In a statement to Fox 9, Nienstedt said: “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.”  

Nienstedt also said he didn’t have an unusual relationship with Wehmeyer, that they only had dinner on three occasions. For Nienstedt's full response, click here.