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Nienstedt deposed.


On April 2, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was deposed by attorney Jeff Anderson as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who claims he was molested by a priest in the 1970s. The plaintiff alleges that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with the Diocese of Winona, created a public nuisance by failing to disclose information about clerics accused of sexual abuse. At a press conference this afternoon, Anderson released a slightly redacted transcript of the deposition. The archdiocese posted the transcript and full video to its website, noting that Anderson did not ask any questions about the abuse allegations that occasioned the deposition.

The wide-ranging and often contentious conversation reveals an archbishop who felt comfortable delegating authority to deal with the abuse crisis--even though he's "a hands-on person"--and who still believes that he and his delegates have done a good job handling the problem. According to Nienstedt's sworn testimony, one of those delegates recommended that conversations regarding accused priests shouldn't be put in writing because they could be discovered in litigation.

"You followed his advice, didn't you?" Anderson asked the archbishop.

"In terms of?"

"Not putting things into writing."

"Yes," Nienstedt replied.

The man who offered that advice, according to Nienstedt, is Fr. Kevin McDonough. He served as vicar general under the previous archbishop, Harry Flynn, and then as "delegate for safe environment" under Nienstedt. Last week, a task force created by Nienstedt to investigate diocesan abuse procedures sharply criticized McDonough for mishandling reports of clergy misdonduct.

McDonough features in two troubling cases brought to light after Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, went to the police and the press with her concerns about how the archdiocese had handled them. In one case, McDonough objected to the archdiocesan review board's recommendation to warn a parish staff that their new pastor had a history of sexual misconduct (with adults), which included allegedly propositioning a nineteen and twenty-year-old at a bookstore, trying to pick up teenagers at gas station, driving drunk, and being spotted by a cop cruising for sex. That priest--and he is still a priest--is Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. He's in jail for molesting children and possessing child pornography. Among his victims were the children of a parish employee.

In another case, McDonough advised Nienstedt that even though an independent report had found "borderline illegal" pornographic images on a priest's computer, there was no need to report them to the police because they were probably "enticements to take a further step to view pornography." "Were Father Shelley to have clicked on such advertisements, he would likely have been caught in a law-enforcement sting," McDonough claimed. Neither McDonough nor Nienstedt reported this to the police, even though they are mandated reporters required by law to immediately (within twenty-four hours) inform civil authorities when they suspect child abuse--which includes possessing child porn. (The Washington County prosecutor declined to press charges against the priest. It's not clear whether the Ramsey County attorney will pursue the case.)

McDonough was deposed last Wednesday (the transcript has not been released).

Under questioning, Nienstedt said that he never reprimanded or faulted McDonough for the way he carried out his duties as child-safety czar. "I've always believed that Fr. McDonough had the best intentions," Nienstedt told Anderson. When pressed, the only disagreement the archbishop could recall was with McDonough's decision not to tell Wehmeyer's parish about his "drunk driving"--he didn't mention the cleric's history of sexual misconduct. "Any other actions taken by Kevin McDonough as your delegate for safe environment or as vicar general that you look back on now and say, 'He blew it'?" Anderson asked.

"I don't believe so," Nienstedt said.

"So you think he did a good job about that huh?"

"I believe he did."

"Do you think you're doing a good job?" Anderson continued.

"I believe I am, yes." In fact, "the only mistake that I know I made" had nothing to do with Wehmeyer or Shelley. It was about "not removing the faculties" from another priest.

What about any other priests or officials of the archdiocese? Have they mishandled abuse allegations? "No," Nienstedt said. "I don't believe so." (Of course, the archbishop's lawyers would have advised against admitting fault in sworn testimony.)

Anderson raised the case of Fr. Michael Stevens, reminding Nienstedt that "in the mid-1980s, he pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct with a minor." But Nienstedt is "not aware of that" because "that was all before my time." Except, as Anderson points out, Stevens is in the archdiocese's monitoring program, and after his guilty plea, after he was suspended from ministry, he was working in several parishes performing "IT work." That work was brought to an end, but Nienstedt couldn't recall when. What about why? "I don't have that answer," Nienstedt said. "I would presume Fr. McDonough would know. I think that happened under his watch."

Naturally, Anderson asked: "But your watch as archbishop, correct?" Nienstedt can't recall that either: "I don't have those dates." Nor did he have any recollection of Haselberger--his former chancellor for canonical affairs--raising concerns with him about Stevens doing IT work as recently as 2011.

During that exchange, Nienstedt told Anderson that Fr. Peter Laird, who was vicar general when the Wehmeyer case broke, resigned of his own volition because he disagreed with the archbishop's decision to make Wehmeyer pastor, and thought news reports made him look bad. "My recollection is that he said...'I'm being painted with the same brush you are.' And he said, 'I need to resign to maintain my integrity."

In February, Minnesota Public Radio reported a secret recording of Nienstedt telling a roomful of priests that Laird was "the person who's been hurt the worst in this." But in the deposition Nienstedt didn't remember "the exact words" he used, and said that he didn't listen to the recording released by MPR.

Reading the transcript, you can't help but wonder whether Nienstedt has been keeping track of the stories that put him in front of Jeff Anderson. During a lengthy exchange about Shelley--the priest whose computer contained "borderline illegal" images--Nienstedt is fuzzy on basic facts about the case, such as which of his employees advised him to do what with those photos. For several pages of testimony, he claims that the archdiocese turned over the files to the police in 2004--that's why, he says, he didn't immediately have the material sent to the cops when Haselberger discovered them in 2012. "It was taken as a fact," Nienstedt testified, "that that had already been turned over to the police and the police had made a decision on it." But in fact they had not. Nienstedt later corrected his mistaken, but curiously detailed account. He got confused, he explained, because the archdiocese had hired a retired law-enforcement officer to review the images.

And when Anderson questioned Nienstedt about Wehmeyer, again the archbishop seemed oddly uninformed about the case. He repeatedly claims that Haselberger warned him that Wehmeyer shouldn't be promoted to pastor because he's "same-sex attracted," that he had propositioned two young men at a bookstore. What about Haselberger's concern about the cleric's diagnosis of sexual addiction? Anderson asked. "I don't recall that." And: "I don't remember that at all." Which is odd, because Nienstedt said that he read the report from the treatment facility Wehmeyer was sent to after his misconduct came to light. Nienstedt also can't recall that Wehmeyer was trying to pick up teenagers at a gas station. (There's more to say about the Wehmeyer case--especially the question of when the archdiocese learned of the first allegation and how long it took to report it to police. To be continued.)

Thanks to MPR's reporting, all of that information has been part of the public record for months. Apparently Archbishop Nienstedt hasn't been keeping up.

Nor has he shown any interest in personally examining priest personnel files. Anderson asked whether Nienstedt has ever said, "I want to review the file of Father X," in order to make fully informed decisions. "I don't recall that I have," Nienstedt answered.

No, he's relied on others to keep him informed, to make sure his promise that no credibly accused priests remain in ministry holds true. But it wasn't until he hired an outside consulting firm that he realized one such priest had been working in parishes--Fr. Kenneth LeVan.

Nienstedt removed him last month.*

* An earlier version of this sentence incorrectly stated
that LeVan was removed in December.

About the Author

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



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It is fascinating to watch the scramblings of Archbishop Nienstedt to save himself. He came to straighten out St. Paul. Lay people and consultation ,ha, he knows best. But now the promises, promises and it is everybody else's fault. Staff can be expected to be thrown under the bus. Resign or be removed by Rome. Not yet. Let the discoveries coming to light come to fruition. It is too early to let him escape. Then let him retire to a monestary to  on and the good work of his predecessors (even with their faults) of building the Church in St. Paul that he was so eager to correct.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is a video of a RCC leader's deposition worth?

The more we ask and push for "personal accountability" and "personal responsibiity" in the conduct and decision-making of USA Catholic Church  leaders, the more excuses and lies we get.

Best part of the Nienstedt drama, the videos will be available for future Catholic generations and those scholars who wish to study source documents re the RCC leadership's response to the clergy abuse crisis in the early 21st century.  

Michael Skiendzielewski

Philadelphia, PA


I believe Nienstedt with his droning "I don't recall" statements is just another example of episcopal mendacity in deposition. For more of the same, consult a whole list of depositions at 

Mahony, George, McCormack, Goedert, Law, Curry, take your pick of the "I don't remember" litanies in what comes across to me as rehearsed responses.

Recall also the quote of a bishop who "often appeared in court to defend priests facing charges. He described how, as he was walking into court, he would recite to himself, 'I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I do not remember.' The 40 new Jesuit superiors in attendance "laughed loudly" at that bit of humor.

Again, many thanks to Grant for researching and presenting prior threads about Nienstedt's parsed drivel where he contradicted himself and indulged in dishonest shadings of the truth.

And where, pray tell, are the spines of prosecutors who sit by and fail to indict on criminal charges?

The passivity of Catholic laity and major donors in not coming out in droves to challenge Nienstedt is telling. Perhaps we deserve what we allow to pass for episcopal leadership. In retrospect, it was when major donors peeled away from Law (after some document releases) that JPII accepted his resignation.


A plaintiff's lawyer on a fishing expedition.  A bishop wriggling to stay off the hook.  That's my takeaway.

Darn, I saw "Nienstedt deposed" and I thought it meant that Pope Francis had removed him from his office.

While it is really the only way to get this information out in th eopen, the legal system is also in many respects the worst way.  I have no doubt that the good archbishop's legal team told him not to answer any questions directly.  Use I don't recall and so forth.  The plaintiff's lawyer is trying for a "gotcha" moment.  It is a sorid ending to a sorid process.  One would hope that the good archbishop will have the common decency to resign once this is over.  How can one expect to be taken seriously on matters of faith and morals when one has been through this process? 

Jim P.

If this is fishing, may the fisheman succeed in landing this lunker. Then he can be released to some safe aquarium where he can do no harm- plenty of monasteries around -- if there's no need for anything else.

The takeaway for me is not that he does not recall exactly when or who was in the room when he was advised not to put, in writing, conversations regarding accused priests, it is that he acted on such advice.

One of the perks of being a bishop, or anybody for that matter, is that you also have the option of taking your own counsel. If I were a bishop, particularly knowing the climate around this whole issue, I would document every conversation and action I took. And I would strive to act in a just, fair, and reasonable manner both privately and publicly.

When I worked in a managment capacity, I told the staff that I would always consult and provide a full rationale for the basis for my decisions. They did not have to agree nor am I infallible but at least I would be transparent and if there was a flaw in my reasoning or if I should have considered other matters, I would always be open to hearing that and I was. I should say that this style did not go over well with senior managment but no matter, I think transparency is an important value and we should walk the walk.

Maybe the church should consider leadership training, modelled on the gospel, for our leaders. There is tons out there on that whole area. I think Francis is trying to move them more broadly in a specific direction but it still needs to be translated into concrete action. A start would be mandated advisory committees in every diocese and canon law changed to ensure that bishops have a duty to consult (not an option)

Another performance for the ages from Nienstadt!

I'm shocked that Nienstadt's lawyers ever allowed him to ever testify under oath.  What else could he say except the very limp, "I don't recall"?  

I don't know the specific legal issues that are at stake in this particular case, but the really good practiced liars in the hierarchy get their lawyers to negotiate an out-of-court settlement so they don't have to testify under oath.

Like when Cardinal William Leveda did in a defamation suit brought by one of his own priests whom he had defamed and humiliated after the Rev. John Conly [a former assistant US district attorney] had reported to the police his pastor raping the rectory's adolescent telephone receptionist.  

Leveda had summarily suspended the priest from ministry, removed him from the rectory, cut-off all financial support, forced Conly to undergo psychiatric examination and psychological evaluation.  Leveda's parting shot to Conly was really rich:  "You need to learn obedience."  

[Leveda eventually even got SCOTUS to declare him an official of a forgeign country [i.e., the Vatican due to his being prefect of the Inquisition (CDF)] thereby conferring diplomatic immunity against any pesky American subpoena.  You can't make this stuff up!] 

I guess that is why Leveda got that top job in Vatican: because he just so clever and devious?!?

I hope that this performance by Nienstadt's adds to the body of work before Catholics that demonstrates the degenerate and corrupt state of their hierarchy.  "Houston, we have a problem!"

I once had a conversation with now deceased Bishop Walter Sullivan of Alexandria VA.  He had just returned from one of those ad limina visits to Rome and I asked him what was his overall impressions.  He smiled that warm Irish grin of his and said:  "Someday, they will all be dead."

Painful to watch.

Chosing to eliminate the papertrail shows where his priorities are. It helps defend against litigation, but it also hampers their ability to monitor how they are handling these cases. What would happen if the person in charge of managing these cases died unexpectantly? Would we want to rely on Archbishop Nienstedt's apparently less than stellar memory?

Also, I can understand the legal strategy, but are they considering how much this is costing his authority? Is anyone going to seek guidance from someone who has trouble keeping track of the relevant facts and worse seems uninterested in them?

"Maybe the church should consider leadership training, modelled on the gospel, for our leaders."

Curriculum Suggestions:

1. Don't ever say it is a burden if you have to preside at three Eucharists on Sunday.

2. If  you do not help the poor and downtrodden every day, you are not doing your job. (Same for all Christians)

3. If you do not know the names of most of your parishioners, resign! 

4. Give a detailed list of how the contributions are going to the poor. (The Cardinal's fund does not count.)

5. Inform the people of how many trips you take a year. Let the people know why you can take five, ten or twenty times more trips than those who are supporting you. 

6. Don't ever say that there is more sex abuse in families than there are among clergy and religious. 

7. Never use the term "the Good Father" or "the Good Bishop."

8. Prepare at least 3 hours for the Sunday homily.

9. Let no one call you "Father." 

10. Call your bishop on it when he is covering up crimes against children.

But if all this unnverves you then you can retrogress to clergy worship by starting at this site.


In the news we're always seeing stories of ordinary people getting a chance to talk to the pope for a few minutes ... if only someone was able to just say to him (hopefully with a reporter nearby) ....

"One of the worst parts of the sex abuse scandal is that bishops and cardinals who covered up the abus have not been punished and their cover-ups have not even been *acknowledged* by the Vatican - you have to address this."

"Let no one call you "Father" - once read that in a Fundamentalist (Chick, I think) brochure put under my windshield at a shopping mall. 

"Let no one call you "Father" - once read that in a Fundamentalist (Chick, I think) brochure put under my windshield at a shopping mall. 

Yep.  I recall seeing it on a sticker pasted over an ad on a Chicago "el" car years ago, during the time of Pope John Paul II's visit to Chicago.



Whats the point of an article about a deposition where:  Anderson did not ask any questions about the abuse allegations that occasioned the deposition.



If that's a serious question then you haven't been paying attention. If you're just trolling then do it elsewhere.


Also, I can understand the legal strategy, but are they considering how much this is costing his authority? Is anyone going to seek guidance from someone who has trouble keeping track of the relevant facts and worse seems uninterested in them?

@ Ryan Rowenkamp:  You're presuming that any of those pastoral sensibilities have any currency for the hierarchs.  You really need to look beyond the mythology that we sheeple have been fed for lo these many centuries.


Hierarchs are corporate trolls.  Little more than politicos in the world's oldest all-male feudal oligarchy.  Sadly, they don't give a wit about things like being a good shepherd, except for lip service.

You know, the idea of "not putting anyhting in writing" comes is typical advice one would get from a lawyer or risk management person.  I've run into a similar line fo thinking when I was in city government.  Our city attorney's office always advised that because if there was nothing in writing to back up various decisions there would be no "embarassing facts" (his term) on the record and no judge would substitute his judgement for the administrative agency.  I regularly disregarded this advice because I wanted throrough analyses of matters from my staff, which weren't as posssible when given verbally.  In the end I think we made better decisions, and had better reasoning behind those decisions despite the pains it gave our legal team.  I have serious concerns with managers who kowtow to legal advice that as if it came down from Mount Sinai on 2 tablets of stone.  If you are too embarrassed to write down the reasons you used to make a decision, they might not be such good reasons.

@ Jim Dunn:  Bingo!  

American hierarchs have surrounded themselves with whole phalanxes of lawyers and public relations consultants - who are really more akin to union-busting thugs dressed in expensive suits and Italian loafers. 

I would speculate that Nienstedt's whole testimony was carefully rehearsed with professionals who know how to coach witnesses on how to say essentially nothing, or at least minimize any legal exposure.

Most of the American hierarchs' over-arching grand legal strategies has been mapped out for them, consolidated within the singular purview by their mysterious and shadowy attorney Jeffery Lena based here in Berkeley, California who represents the Holy See in civil lawsuits in the US.  

It's hard to get any information on Lena - no published office address or telephone number - but I believe he has no other clients except the Vatican, and of course their American toady hierarchs.  Think of Lena as the personification of the character of Tom Hagen as The Godfather Vito Corleone's consigliere.

I once had an exchange with Lena about his slash and burn legal tactics in court against survivors, attacking their veracity, and humiliatingly recounting their personal life struggles - all totally irrelevant to their sexual assaults by priests.  When I suggested the impropriety of the Catholic Church re-assaulting victims of priest perpetrated abuse, he retorted "You think we should just surrender!?!"  [Abruptly, then archbishop Leveda quickly ended the conference call quashing any possible debate on the merits]

What would Jesus say about that legal strategy? 

The reason that Nienstedt didn't write anything thing down is because his attorneys have most likely have told him to vacuum-up, destroy any trace of written notes which are subject to discovery in any court proceeding.  [This is main reason why Cardinal Mahony filed endless appeals to block access to any priest personnel records which for decades documented his complicity in the rape and sodomy of hundreds, if not thousands of children.]

Sadly, our hierarchs are very devious and practiced liars.  It seems that it has been a prerequisite skill for their jobs in the feudal oligarchy of the Catholic Church.

Heavy is head that wears the crown.

Sorry - think you guys are missing some evidence of patterns and another deposition (McDonough's)

Also, if you go back to Haselberger's accounts, she lays out a different pattern.  Couple that with Msgr. Laird's resignation based upon his own arrive at a different view of Neinstedt.

First, Nienstedt works mostly alone and at nite/week-ends.  He does not like meetings or interpersonal discussions.  (could have a field day on his MMPI - he must have a number of diagnoses on both Axis One and Axis Two).  Almost all communication is from him and it is by memos (the Monday memo drop).

Second, given this top down and anti-relational approach to life, would wager that he resents these abuse cases; resents the priests who have put him in this spot; and thus he has little compulsion to read, investigate, or involve his personal energy in these issues.

Third, he reminds me of many bishops/pastors who could never understand an abuser - the very thought was so outside their sphere of understanding, that they physically and mentally shut down...went into denial.

Fourth,look at McDonough's deposition - he rejected Nienstedt's statement that he told him not to take notes.  See above - Nienstedt didn't want to take notes.

Fifth, read through the various statements by Hasselberger - she describes a man who operates in a very strange manner - remote, avoids human contact, etc.

Sorry, this guy is not all there.

Reading the transcript of Anderson's questioning of McDonough I see that the sparring between them has been going on for 20 years -- the evidence of wrongdoing on McDonought's part seems to be somewhere between tenuous and non-existent -- is Anderson some sort of obsessed crusader?

Thank you, Bill deHaas, for your excellent review of Nienstedt's modus operandi: the anti-relational approach being particularly meaningful. Resentment, denial, a loner - quite a brew along Axis One and Two.

Not mich vetting of episcopal candidates, is there? Except perhaps for slavish loyalty to hyper-orthodoxy; psychological maturity and leadership skills not necessary.

Its a serious question which you just belittled.  IMHO, your article contained nothing new, insightful or remotely interesting, and was all summed up by my quote.

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