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Archbishop Nienstedt to return to ministry.

Ramsey County prosecutors will not press charges against Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was accused of inappropriately touching a minor during a 2009 confirmation group photo. In a memo explaining the decision not to prosecute, assistant county attorney Richard Dusterhoft called allegation "unlikely." A boy who appeared in that photograph told his mother that Nienstedt had touched his rear end during the shoot. His mother mentioned it to a St. Paul-Minneapolis priest, who then reported it to the police. Officers interviewed Nienstedt twice, the boy twice, and everyone who appeared in the photo. None of them remembered seeing anyone being touched on the buttocks.

“This case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney with many years of experience prosecuting child sex-abuse cases,” Dusterhoft wrote. “It is that attorney’s experienced and considered opinion that based upon the evidence as presented by police this case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be charged.”

Nienstedt removed himself from ministry soon after the archdiocese received the allegation in December; he will resume public ministry immediately.

More from MPR. (More from me on the ongoing sexual-abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis here, here, here, and here.)

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Like the notorious cases of Claus Von Bulow and O. J. Simpson before - and countless others for sure, Nienstedt now escaping prosecution only reinforces the dictum that [Wealthy men never go to jail].

So much for justice in America if you are a child who has been violated and assaulted.

Like Henry Plantagenet lamenting over his former close friend turned traitorous trouble-maker-for-the-king, Thomas Becket, we who must now suffer Nienstedt's continuing as archbishop despite his abusive behavior:  "Will no one rid [us] of this turbulent priest?"

Explain this to me, Jim: The memo from the county attorney says that the boy "did not feel violated," and "did not believe the incident was significant"; the county attorney does not feel sufficient evidence exists to charge; and the archbishop denies the incident--but you think that he should be prosecuted, convicted, and jailed anyway?

How do you figure that one?

Guily charged I am sure you carefully examined all the evidence and interviewed all the people involved.

I think that the press and the Crown needs to be careful about releasing information if there is not a reasonable chance of conviction. Or if it is, for any reason, a bit dodgy. The reason is that it undermines other investigation. Closer to my area, a priest of the diocese has been charged for incidents in the 80's

Geraldton priest charged with sexual assault


Without reviewing all the other articles and with other reasons why he should be led to "retirement," I thought this always sounded a big bogus. I don't discount any "frottage" but still cannot imagine him doing something so blatantly inapprpriate in such a public situation. I'll trust the DA on this one... though there's the whole other issue to adjudicate!

It's a typical case of hysteria, and the sort of thing that SNAP have encouraged. On the other hand, the reports from Argentina are rather hair-raising:

Bergoglio comes out fairly well out of the Argentina stories (which are not new). Even SNAP are reduced to vague rumblings.

It is very difficult to prosecute these child abuse cases.  I don't know the particulars of this case in Milwaukee but the district attorney obviously didn't think he could win a conviction.  However, let's remember that there is an inherent prejudice in our judicial system against survivors, especially children.  

Besides, the public most likely knows only a fraction of the backroom maneuvering among the various attorneys that produced this "no charge" result.  

Are Wisconsin county attorney's choosen in popular elections?  When the Catholic Church has its mind focused, they can bring a lot of political pressure on its targets.  Money talks.  

Here in California local district attorneys consistently give the hierarchs a pass.  Cardinal Mahoney is a free man.  Bishop Ziemann of Santa Rosa was allowed to die in retirement at an Arizona monestary even though he defrauded the diocese of hundreds of thousands of dollars, supporting a lavish life-style for his priest-lover [whom he ordained without a seminary education]. 

Never heard that tale about Bp. Ziemann...

I respect the work of SNAP in stepping forward when no one else (other than Jeff Anderson and Tom Doyle) were, but all stories need to be avaluated on their own bases, I believe.


From what I've heard of Bisho Neistadt, I don't have a high opinion of him.  On the other hand, this story never struck me as being very likely.  Given the whole situation, the scene and all, it seemed at worst accidental contact that was blown out of proportion given the bishop's other troubles.  That doesn't mean he ought not be investigated for his other failings, though.

@ David Pasinski:  More on Santa Rosa ...

The Sonoma County district attorney - btw a very prominent local good Catholic - refused to indict Bishop Daniel Walsh for obstruction of justice after he tipped-off notorious child molester Rev. Xavier Ochoa to his impending arrest for sexual assaulting poor immigrant children.  

Ochoa provided these children's families with credit cards in exchange for remaining silent about the abuse.  These families couldn't go to the authorities because of the immigration status. 

Ochoa was able to get out of town just ahead of his arrest by police and is now "ministering" at last report in his native Mexico - which has no extradition for child sexual assault and exploitation.  God help those Mexican children.

In his book The Rite of Sodomy - Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church, Randy Engel reveals the real pastoral skills of Daniel Walsh, a close associate of former SF archbishop John Quinn: 

Walsh played a pivotal role in the notorious Bishop Joseph Ferrario sex abuse case in the early 1990s when a young Hawaiian man by the name of David Figueroa charged Ferrario and two other Catholic priests from the island with sexual molestation. It was the first time an American bishop had been publicly accused of pederasty.

The Ferrario-Figueroa case was important because it revealed an early pattern of premeditated and organized deception, and criminal behavior, by Church officials, including Bishop Walsh, in dealing with clerical sex offenders:

    The case involved the top echelons of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States including the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference, the Papal Nunciature in Washington, D.C. and the Vatican. The victims and their families were all intimidated and/or sworn to secrecy. Whistle-blowers were exiled and/or overtly persecuted and excommunicated. Seminaries were polluted. The Lavender Mafia, which included recruits from the mainland, colonized the entire diocese. Clerical pederasts found safe-haven from prosecution and fresh prey. And so it went. All to protect an unfaithful bishop and sexual pervert, Bishop 'Joe' Ferrario.

Walsh is now enjoying a quiet retirement.  I guess the hierarchy figures he deserves it.

David Pasinski,

I wouldn't discount the possibility of an abuser doing something in a public situation like this. Crowded subway cars are just as public, and that doesn't stop men from groping or rubbing against women. In a photo shoot, nearby eyes would be focused on the camera and people's bodies would block people in front of the group from seeing anything. The victim might not be sure whose hand touched him and, even if he was sure, might be reluctant to say anything in such a public space. The public nature of act may add to the desirability to an abuser, and if someone does notice something, he could probably brush it off as an accident.

It is completely ridiculous that the boy was subjected to two days of police interrogation for a casual remark that was interpreted hysterically by adults, and that continues to be interpreted hysterically by those here who speak of him as a "survivor" and who parse every possible implication of the alleged stroking of the boy by the bishop. The boy's own testimony that the alleged stroke was insignificant and not a violation is dismissed, and indeed the boy himself is treated as a criminal for not pushing a criminal complaint against the bishop. Who are the real abusers of the boy in this story? It is a typical case of puritan witch-hunting at its most lunatic, and SNAP-minded folk do themselves no service and undermine their cause by indulging in this sort of extrapolation and rabble-rousing instead of sticking to the true and terrible facts of clerical child abuse.

JOL - so, do you have documentation that shows that SNAP or others coerced this victim into making this allegation?  Also, you do realize that the vicimt is no longer a boy?  (you seem confused on the actual dates of the alleged crime? and now?)

Are you now channelling pompous Bill Donohue -

Doesn't appear that other of your likely buggymen are behind this e.g. Jeffrey Andersen law firm is not involved, SNAP is not involved, etc.

Even Rev. Tom Doyle came out with a public statement that questioned that this abuse happened in the way it is alleged?

Yes, let's stick to the true and terrible facts of clerical abuse (sorry, unlike you I don't narrowly restrict it to children).....your comment doesn't appear to do accomplish what you state?

Bill de Haas, I do not of course restrict clerical abuse to child sexual abuse, nor indeed to I restrict abuse to clerical abuse. When I spoke of SNAP-minded hysteria I was referring to Jim Jenkins's comments above. I believe that the incident happened in 2009, but one markbirch on NCR has been saying that the boy has NOW changed his story because of unwelcome publicity (accuracy is not a forte of hysterics) and is blaming the boy for this. In fact the boy made only one reported statement.

You raised an important issue when you stated that "the victim is no longer a boy" -- indeed, a radical Buddhist philosopher might say that the victim is no longer the same person. Bertrand Russell might say that to refer to the boy as a boy when he is no longer a boy is a semantic error as in reference to the baldness of the present king of France, but we must give some slack to the conveniences of ordinary language. But of course there is a more mundane chronological aspect that, if clarified, could dirimate undecidability -- I refer to the actual, factual age of the alleged "survivor" (Jenkins) -- if he was only 10 when the alleged insignificant incident occurred then at 15 he would still be a boy; indeed he might count as such at an even higher age -- Newman was 21 when he wrote "I quite shed tears to think I can no longer call myself a boy", and some are known to be "a boy forever"!

Yep, some have stayed boys forever....a consistent theme of both Eugene Kennedy and Andrew Greeley.And one of the drivers behind the significant emotional immaturity and maldevelopment of most clerical abusers:


Clerical Culture was the essential breeding ground of the sex abuse crisis. This crisis was also hidden in the violet trimmed folds of this unique social milieu. It conferred respect, esteem, and the benefit of the doubt on those priests who could not earn it on their own and who carried out furtive erotic raids on the innocent in its maze-like structure. This culture allowed the unhealthy to pass for healthy and lead secret lives whose corrupt form they themselves did not understand.

Would sex abuse have occurred if there were adult women in the priesthood standing up to and confronting the troubled male priests who preyed on the children in their care? Indeed, would Clerical Culture, with its locker room ambience and it odors of cigar smoke, bay rum, and Bushmill's whisky, have survived the clear eyed gaze of women who made clerics put away their toys and grow up?




Kennedy makes no mention of the women who had more access to Clerical Culture than the mothers of the clergy, namely religious sisters. Unfortunately, they sometimes were aware of pedophile activities among clergy visiting their schools and kept silent. Kennedy also underestimates how thoroughly child molesters keep their activities hidden even from their closest colleagues and relatives. Also the locker-room ambiance of the clerical world has possibly altered with the gaying of the priesthood in more recent decades, where plenty of priests are very much open to the feminine aspects of their nature. Let us remember that "the troubled priests who preyed on the children in their care" are a small minority of all priests. I doubt if anyone would allow their unhealthy activities "to pass for healthy". I also get the impression that Kennedy tends to lump sexually active gay priests along with pedophiles, on the premiss that both are involved in secret lives".

JOL - you seem to be into *stereotypes* e.g. gay clergy being more feminine, women or sisters, etc.

You repeat the usual memes:

- "...troubled priests who prey on children are a small minority of all priests...."

- doubt that anyone would allow their unhealthy activities to pass for healthy

- locker room ambiance of the clerical world has possibly altered with the gaying of the priesthood

Really, really???

Fact, at least in the US via John Jay Studies we know that the abuser rate among clerics runs around 7% and that this varies by diocese and ordination classes (LA archdiocese over a ten year period exceeded 10% and a couple of ordination classes exceeded 15% - same with Boston)   This is not a *small minority*   and when talking about sexual abuse - citing a *small minority* is merely dismissing or ignoring the actual impact of abuse

Fact, thousands of folks (espcially priests) have allowed unhealthy activities to pass for healthy - and this continues today.  Fact that most gay clergy are not transparent given current attitudes is only one part of the *unhealthy clericalism* creating significant tensions in any diocese or religous communities.  We still live in a time when the pastor is the *boss* - makes unilateral financial decisions; same with a bishop.  Thus, it is rare for the person in the pew to question, much less criticize, any *unhealthy* activities.

Your passing statement about gay priests - other than being stereotypical, my most recent experience with gay pastors is that the new pastor replaced the past gay pastor's convection oven in the rectory with one he like better - cost to parishioners, ets. $20,000.  Sorry, these types of behaviors can be found in all clerics (whether gay or hetero).

Finally, you pop off about sisters' silence - this is almost laughable given that the vast majority of US priests currently say nothing about sexual abuse and when confronted - dodge, avoid, or deny that they ever saw anything.  Talk about buring your head in the sand.  It is actually a significant negative mark against all US priests.  (why so silent?  Fear of your bishop? Misguided institutional loyalty?  I could go on and on)


"We know that the abuser rate among US clergy is around 7%" -- I am not sure that we know that at all.


The only point I made about the sisters is that they are a problem for Kennedy's rather stereotypical belief that adult women in the clerical culture would have solved the problem.

I regrettably do not know many young priests -- I  have heard that some young American priests affect a locker-room contempt for gays, when in a group, but that in fact they are all gay! I put it to you, nonetheless,  that gays bitching about gays is a very different phenomenon from the older card-playing Clerical Culture that Kennedy conjures up (I always feel in reading him that I have strayed into a Powers novel).  Yes, it is true that being gay is not necessarily to embrace the feminine. But from what I have encountered of devotionalism among younger priests I feel that they are indeed quite feminine. Indeed, was it not a feature Catholic devotionalism that it feminized the male? Consider the Stabat Mater, the beautiful hymns of the gay F. W. Faber, etc. etc. 

I agree that thousands, indeed everybody, can mistake unhealthy activities for healthy. But I am quite sure that a priest interfering with children would not be regarded as involved in a healthy activity by his fellow priests. 

7 per cent of priests, according to Bill de Haas, are troubled men who prey on children. I would check that statistic very carefully before subscribing to it. Perhaps Bill could cite chapter and verse from a reputable source? And please, no blithe allusions to the Jay Report please -- that has been cited for all sorts of preposterous and contradictory claims.

Wikipedia summary of Jay Report does not turn up the 7% of Bill de Haas


The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time (1950-2002). Of these 4,392, approximately:

  • 56 percent had one reported allegation against them; 27 percent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 percent had four to nine allegations against them; 3 percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations
  • The allegations were substantiated for 1,872 priests and unsubstantiated for 824 priests. They were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. 298 priests and deacons who had been completely exonerated are not included in the study.

Sad, JOL, that you have to appeal to Wiki...really???

Here you go:  and re-read my distinctions and clarifications above  (you have a tendency to ignore points and reduce to what you choose to hear)

Key Points:

Bishops (or JOL) argue endlessly and uselessly about numbers of abusers in their ranks. They cannot accept facts.

The more we get to know about the sexual habits of Catholic bishops and priests the more ominous the picture becomes. Current records even now confirm that between 6 and 9 percent of Roman Catholic clergy have abused minors.

The John-Jay report of 2004 prepared for the U.S. bishops from their records (Pp. 30-7) reported that 6.5 percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were involved eventually in sex with minors.   (sure different from your misguided 4% quote)

Studies of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that 11.5 percent of the priests in active ministry in 1983 subsequently proved to be alleged abusers. Thirty percent of the priests graduating from their major seminary in 1966 and 1972 later abused minors.

Over 7.6 percent of Boston priests, 8.2 percent of New Hampshire priests abused. Those are 2004 figures; both are now closer to 10 percent.

The diocese of Tucson AZ listed 23 percent of its priests for sexual offenses in its 1988 Sensitive Claims Committee records.

Many religious orders retain 10 to 12 percent of abusers among their ranks.

On your other ridiculous comments:

- locker room behaviors happen and have created tensions in communities -and this happens both on gay and hetero clerical groups.  There are some significant US dioceses having to contend with real gay clerical power groups in terms of diocesan decisions e.g. assignments, etc.

And you don't know any young US clerics - well, at least you acknowledged it so stop speaking for them.

I know OF young US clerics, from good sources, and I have argued with young clerics on the internet (even commissioning and publishing an article from one of them).

Wiki sticks to what the Jay report says and Sipe seems to be in a state of hysteria. An average of 3-6 percent of clergy were accused of abuse of minors  Look at pp. 30-7 and see if you can find the basis for Sipe's statistics:

It is hard to know what to make of Sipe. Some of his books are good, perhaps because they had careful editors. The above piece, however, is a rant crawling with stereotypes. When he comes to the statistics, I cannot take them on trust, not only because of the rant-context, but also because the one statistic that I can check, namely the Jay Report statistic, seems to be wrong.  ("The John-Jay report of 2004 prepared for the U.S. bishops from their records (Pp. 30-7) reported that 6.5 percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were involved eventually in sex with minors.")

He does not document his other statistics:

"Current records even now confirm that between 6 and 9 percent of Roman Catholic clergy have abused minors."

What does "current records" mean -- ?

"Studies of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that 11.5 percent of the priests in active ministry in 1983 subsequently proved to be alleged abusers. Thirty percent of the priests graduating from their major seminary in 1966 and 1972 later abused minors."

Is "studies of" subjective or objective genetive? It could refer to some SNAP-like thinktank producing their own unchecked extrapolations.

"Over 7.6 percent of Boston priests, 8.2 percent of New Hampshire priests abused. Those are 2004 figures; both are now closer to 10 percent."

Again, it is not clear who compile these figures. If the abuse was so clear one would expect to find a corresponding number of court cases. 

"The diocese of Tucson AZ listed 23 percent of its priests for sexual offenses in its 1988 Sensitive Claims Committee records." Note the word "claims" and the probability that the reference is to every kind of sexual offense, not just ones connected to minors. Googling just brings up a reference to this on the SNAP site; it would be nice to have some context. 

"Many religious orders retain 10 to 12 percent of abusers among their ranks."

Again, how can he know this? And does he mean abusers of minors or abusers in general, or rather, people alleged to be abusers? 

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