dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Archbishop Nienstedt steps aside after sexual-misconduct allegation.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has stepped aside after it was alleged that he inappropriately touched a minor on the rear end during a group-photo shoot in 2009. In a letter to Twin Cities Catholics, the archbishop denies the allegation. "I do not know the individual involved," he wrote. "He has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false." After consulting with the papal nuncio, Nienstedt decided to voluntarily relinquished his public duties until an investigation is complete (Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over).

"Upon learning of the allegation last week, the archdiocese instructed the mandated reporter to make the matter known to the police," according to a diocesan statement. The archdiocese promises to cooperate with civil authorities. Nienstedt's decision to withdraw from public ministry, the statement claims, demonstrates "the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure. These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established."

For months the archdiocese has been buffeted by a seres of damning revelations about the way Nienstedt and his predecessors have handled abuse allegations. News of this allegation comes just as Nienstedt has started working to restore his people's trust (more on that later). But even if the allegation seems difficult to believe--no one else noticed a bishop touching a kid's buttocks during a post-confirmation group photo?--it won't help his cause.

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Wow.

So Nienstedt allegedly touches a kid on the butt and is resigning. 

And Robert W. Finn, convicted of a *criminal* misdemeanor for effectively subordinating the safety of children entrusted to his pastoral care, continues to occupy his episcopal throne in the KC-St Joe diocese.  The good bishop, of course, is affiliated with Opus Dei and is loved by the Trads.

What's the message?

I won't be shocked if there is substance to these allegations. His energy in capaigning against gays and lesbians has been unmatched among the American bishops, and those who have a particular energy seem to always have a particular reason for it.

The penny drops...

I have no love lost for the Archbishop from what I've read of his conduct on the investigation of the current case, but I find this particular accusation strange and an "innocent til 'proven' guilty" should prevail. It seems to me that there wouln't have been complaints about "wandering hands" long before this and I can imagine being pushed aroung for these group photos and him pulling or pushing someone in a way that may have inadvertently brushed a behind. I am not letting him off the hook or justifying any frottage, but it sure seems that -even if it occurred that there was some contact -- that it may have been innocent.  At any rate, it is appropraite that he step down during this investigation - as Cardinal Bernardine did those years ago.  The remark about Finn is apropos.

Joseph J - As I read it, he's not resigning, it's more of a self-suspension (or nuncio-influenced suspension?) pending an investigation.

And what about that other allegation referenced in daming revelations?

First, he is NOT resigning, just stepping aside while police investigate:

http://www.religionnews.com/2013/12/17/minnesota-archbishop-john-nienste...

Second, this accusation seems rather thin and very difficult to prove. It could certainly redound to the Archbishop's advantage if he is the victim of a false accusation -- and that would not help the cause of genuine victims, not at all.

In a sense this episode also draws attention away from the other enduring questions about his past record.

It could certainly redound to the Archbishop's advantage if he is the victim of a false accusation...

What, pray tell, does that mean???

The allegation strikes me as ludicrous. I have been near many a bishop for confirmation photo ops and have participated in many such photos myself. There are always lots of people around including parents and other family members. Even perverts would exercise great prudence in such a setting, and all the more a prelate who is responsible for providing a safe environment for youth. The archbishop is certainly subject to criticism regarding his handling of clerical sexual abuse, but that someone might misstate what happened in a photo op is unjust to say the least. In this case, the victim is the archbishop.

I agree with John Feehily. I don't want to be insensitive to abuse allegations, but I'm among the skpetics- or at least innocent unitl proven guilty on this one.  The venue was extremely public; it seems like an odd thing for him to do. 

The allegation does sound thin on the surface, and hard to pinpoint. Perhaps the main clue will be if others experienced the same-type situation and dare come forward. 

Still, I've read of abuse that no one catches right in the mix of people with family around . It is entirely possible for a bishop to give some quick squeezes to a buttocks and smile right through the numbed reaction of a youth. Quick as a flash and no one the wiser. Who would believe it?

If memory serves, I recall Shanley in Boston groped a very young victim right in the midst of people gathered around in the church. He sat in a pew talking to a small boy seated beside him, held a prayer book or pamphlet in one hand in front of the boy, while the arm nearest the child was wrapped around him, and busy assaulting him under the pages. The child was a repeated victim.

Let's see what an investigation and time reveal. 

Interesting that the St. Paul police chief just criticized the archdiocese today for failure to cooperate in ongoing investigations of abuse. Who sets that policy but Nienstedt?

St. Paul Police Chief: Archdiocese Has Not Been Very Cooperative on Sex Abuse Cases, That Has to Change  http://kstp.com/news/stories/S3249652.shtml

“…In a news conference he said, “I want to let the public know one thing: let me be very clear on this," (Police Chief Tom) Smith said."We have through written and verbal requests made clear our desire to speak to individuals connected to the archdiocese and we have been told no."

Smith says police have not had the access to interview clergy members in recent investigations into the previous allegations. As late as last week, Smith said they were told no.

"In order for us to bring these cases to the next step in the process of concluding investigations and to bring them to closure, we again, now publicly, call upon those individuals to speak with us," Smith said. "That’s why we are here today.”

Smith said he sent a letter, in addition to numerous verbal requests, asking for access to members of the archdiocese who have relevant knowledge of the procedures within the archdiocese.

“It’s never good enough when someone tells us no and that’s why we have to work with our partners," Smith said. "And let me clarify. I request to talk with people in voluntary interviews to learn more information to further our investigations, but you have to have probable cause. If someone tells us no, they don’t want to talk to us and the archdiocese says they’re cooperating you can come to the reasonable conclusion of where we are here today.”

When questioned why St. Paul police have not obtained a search warrant for the "secret documents,” Smith said they have not been able to get enough access to information that would justify a search warrant. “You need probable cause to get search warrants and to do that, you’ve got to be able to talk with people and we haven’t been able to do that so far.”

Oh, haven’t we tread those waters before!! Grand jury and subpoena time again. Experience indicates it’s  the only way to get at the truth.

Psychopathic people enjoy lying because they enjoy being the center of attention.  Even if other people now come forward with stories does not mean that the stories are true.  It has taken four years to make this accusation of what is probably accidental touching.  And, if the Archbishop was in back of the accuser, then how could the accuser be sure it was the Archbishop.  People in public positions have a lot of people to be afraid of these days. 

I agree with Carolyn that the case seems thin. Four years to come across with an accusation of seduction, rape, serial abuse, something that leaves scars on the psyche and causes shame and denial? Sure, I can believe that easily.

But four years to come across with the story that he touched someone's fanny during a group picture... and that's it?... It sounds like a trumped-up charge.

The Archbishop is right to try to model a response that is responsible to civil and church authorities, to assert his innocence, and generally to do the right thing.

I applaud his refusal to acribe base motives to his accuser. 

At the same time, I agree with David's point that cover-up and mismanagement are still the big issues, and an event that places the Archbishop into the role of innocent victim (not his doing, but there you are) will push the bigger questions off the radar screen. 

Well, since everyone is suspicious of the accuser ("ludicrous", "psycopathic") at first blush, it actually seems like the "extremely public" venue would have been the perfect place to do it.

Abe, without more details we simply do not know what "it" is and in "the perfect place to do it."  Maybe you have never met a psycopath.  Dr. Stone, the psychologist on Investigation Discovery who studies and ranks degrees of evil says that about one person in a hundred is a psychopath and that not all psychopaths kill people.  Retired FBI profiler, Candice DeLong, says if psychopaths are not manipulating people, they are not having any fun.  I have met two psychopaths in my life who loved to tell lies and hurt people with their lies.. They were monsters who had to be kept at a distance if one could not avoid them altogether. 

Thankfully no one gives much credence to charges of Satanic Ritual Abuse anymore, except in Ohio where poor Fr. Robinson was investigated for murder because someone saw him at a Black Mass.  Remember the McMartin Day Care Center Fiasco?  Of course, people never lie about those things.

Why are you even talking about psychopaths?

Abe, talking about psychopaths is a way of ending a conversation.   Of course, it is a very serious charge to levy, espceially absent any information (much less evidence) whatsoever.   OSurely, one can take the viewpoint that the Archpishop is due a presumption of innocence without having to resort to the lack of generosity shown by accusing someone (and who, exaclty/) if psychotic behavior.

Mark L.

And bringing up Robinson in Ohio?  (who by the way, was more than investigated- he was convicted of murder, a conviction upheld on multiple appeals)

I wonder if his Grace packed a bag and moved into a motel as one of his priests would have been forced to do.

Jim and David, thanks for the correction.

I am mentioning psychopaths because they are more common than most people think, and they develop their skills at lying at an early age.  Children can and do fantasize and lie:  McMartin Daycare and Salem Witch Trials.  These lies were very destructive. 

I could not stop any discussion, even if I wanted to do so.  I welcome criticism, and I read this blog for learning purposes.

Robinson in Ohio:  The male DNA found under the victims fingernails was not Robinson's.  The only evidence that I have heard  which convicted him was that the letter opener from his desk fit into the stab marks.  There is plenty of reasonable doubt here; but the jury did not see it that way.  We know from the Innocence Project that people are wrongly convicted. Usually, such DNA findings would be cause for dropping the charges.  For some reason, this was not the case here.

When I was twelve and returning in a crowd of students from an assembly, the boy in front of me shoved his elbow into what little existed at that time of my left breast.  It was very painful and humiliating, but it was an accident.  Unless some information about serious injury can be brought to light in this situation, I say that the charges are ludicrous. 

Religion is always a fertile ground for hoaxes.  Beware.

 

 

Bill Donohue goes just a bit more crazy than his usual lunacy. 

http://www.catholicleague.org/archbishop-nienstedt-deserves-justice/

This sort of call for witnesses to come forward and worse, for someone to out the accuser borders on obstruction of justice.