A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Archbishop Nienstedt under investigation: a brief update.

Two weeks ago, I reported that for the past several months, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been under investigation for "multiple allegations" of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men, according to those who were interviewed by the law firm conducting the inquiry. A couple of days after I posted that story, auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché--who is overseeing the investigation--sent an e-mail to the priests of the archdiocese, explaining that the timing of the release of that news was "not of my choosing," and that "whatever facts you will need to know about the investigation will be made known to you at the appropriate time." The bishop also told Twin Cities priests that he "was instructed by the firm conducting the investigation that the interviews must be carried out under the strictest confidence for the sake of the integrity of the investigation itself." Once the firm's report is complete, he wrote, "there will need to be some time to make an evaluation of those facts as to their credibility and import."

That raises several questions, which I posed to the archdiocese last week: Has Nienstedt been interviewed by the investigating law firm (hired by the archdiocese itself)? How is that firm being paid, and how much does it cost? When will the investigation conclude? Will the firm's final report be made public? And will the archdiocese send an unedited version of that report to the apostolic nuncio once it's completed?

In a written reply, Archbishop Nienstedt said that he did meet with the investigators, and that he "answered their questions to the best of my ability."

Later, Piché responded with another written statement. He explained that the archdiocese is paying for the investigation, but he did not tell me how much it costs. He also said that he did not know when the investigation will conclude. I asked whether the archdiocese will use the law firm's report to create another document that it will then share with Twin Cities priests, or whether it will share the whole report as it was originally written? I also asked whether  the report will be made public, or whether the archdiocese will release to the public certain "need to know" facts from the investigation? "It’s premature to answer these questions," the bishop replied.

As for the question of whether the papal nuncio will receive the report in its entirety, unedited, Piché wrote: "The nuncio will receive a complete report."



Commenting Guidelines

Related story and 1-hour audio reporting on cover-ups of Archbishops Roche, Flynn and Nienstadt on clerical abuse of children in Minn. diocese.  I found it pretty devastating.


Had enough, fellow sheeple?

Sometimes a public figure is just so badly damaged he loses his ability to serve effectively.  I would argue that fairly or unfairly, that is the position in which the Archbishop now finds himself.  He cannot any longer be an effective spokesman, teacher of leader of the Church in Minneapolis.  In such situations, it is best to go away.  I fully understand that it can be difficult to make such a decision, but if you put the good of the whole above your ego, that is what you will do.  A new archbishop, with a new outlook and less baggage would be a gift to the people of the Archdiocese of minneapolis.

I would argue that fairly or unfairly,...

Jim, I understand what you are saying but something seems inherently wrong with the unfairly part.  Essentially "throwing away" or "sacrificing" the Archbishop unfairly seems the antithesis of supporting the dignity of the human person.  In my work people were fired all the time, many times for errors of the organization rather than the individual fired.  While I can see that sometimes one must leave for the good of those remaining, it seems that if one is unfairly accused, perhaps the best course of action is to stay.  Its a concrete way for the group to support the human dignity of the individual.

There may be a simple answer to one of Grant’s questions: “Will the [investigating law] firm’s final report be made public.” The answer will be, no it will not be made public, if the law firm is conducting an internal investigation based on the attorney-client privilege recognized by the Supreme Court in Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981).


there is a difference between the role of an Archbishop and that of say the Junior assistant accountant for parishes in western Minnesota.  At some point, and I would argue that point has long been reached, the Archbishop can no longer effectively function as a teacher and leader.  Even if things he is being accused of are not true, his credibility is no longer intact.  That is very different from the position of some staff member in a corporation or my Junior accountant.  That person is not called upon to present the Church's position on a whole host of public issues, not to be a prime teacher for the Archdiocese.  If he cannot effectively serve in those roles, he becomes at best a figurehead, at worst he is serving out his time.  From what I've followed of the Archbishop Neistadt situation, he is at least guilty of poor judgement.  I doubt his credibility will ever again rise to the level necessary to effectively carry out his duties.  I think in your example, you might agree that it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the head of the organization, who was responsible for the bad decisions, announced he was resigning as a result of such decisions. 

Is there still any doubt among Catholics that clericalism and its twin brother patriarchy are as good examples of corporate evil as we will ever see?

To answer my own question:  The almost complete corruption of the Catholic priesthood has rendered the clerics and hierarchs hopelessly alienated and dangerously irrelevant from the very people they are supposed to serve - according to their own twisted mythology.

Nienstedt is only the most recent prima facie evidence of the malignancy that corrupts the Catholic priesthood - and the infection is only spreading expotentially as more hierarchs age and die-off.

[Case in point:  Our local Oakland Bishop Michael Barber - a relatively "young" 60 y.o. Jesuit - has completely mucked-up his recent arrival on scene in just his first year in office with mindless displays of narcissistic, condescending and autocratic leadership.  Whatever his motivation, Barber comes across as an ambitious political hack very much in a hurry to climb the clerical ladder.  Strange that Barber seems so at odds with the spirit of his fellow Jesuit Papa Francesco?]

Either we Catholics completely reform and renew the way we do priesthood from parish to pope, or Catholicism itself [not Christianity, necessarily] is fated for extinction perhaps before the end of this century.



As I understand it, the prvilege lies with the client, who may waive it.   Apparently the client is the Diocese, so it is not obvious how, or by whom, a decision to waive privilege would be made.  But at least conceptually, the full report could become public legitimately?

Grant Gallicho:  If you have occasion to communicate with the Archdiocese again, would you please ask if they would simply make the contract between the Archdiocese and the law firm public?  Without knowing what possible parameters might have been set to the investigation and whether funding for the investigation is such to make genuine investigation probable, there is simply no way that we will really be able to interpret their findings, whatever they may be.  Such law firms can play either of two roles in situations like this:  (1) A genuine effort to get to the bottom of things; or (2) mounting a public relations effort for a celebrity who's gotten into a bit of a jam, and making a simulacra of an investigation as part of that effort.

Refusal to provide any real information about how Greene Espel has been tasked makes one of those roles seem far more likely than the other.

However this turns out for Nienstedt, Bishop Piche may well have a bright ecclesiastical career ahead of him.  He seems to be learning to weasel well.

Bruce - you might want to spend the next hour carefully reading this affidavit:

After reading this, if you still want to defend Neinstedt, please go for it but don't boar us here with your parsing and inannities.



Makes one think of when Gov. Keating was hired by the bishops after 2002 when they rejecting his findings and virtually fired him. He bluntly commented that they were "like the Mafia." 

It is refreshing that Grant is putting the Archdiocese on notice that a phony report will not be acceptable. Hopefully this kind of expected accountability will spread to all areas of the church. 



Thank  you for alerting me to Hasselberg's affidavit. Shocking! What I find very interesting is that there are incidents of abuse of women included.  I daresy that is not so common in reports of clergy sexual abuse.

Also, I taught in a Catholic school a few years ago.  We were required to have background checks and participate in the VIRTUS training, a rather intense program alerting us to abuse of minors.  (I found it to be very well done.)  What surprises me is that in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, it was required for clergy, although it appears as though it was not implemented. (See page 19 of the Affidavit.) To the best of my knwoledge no priests in the diocese where I taught were required to have background checks and participate in the VIRTUS training.

Bill deHaas,

Thanks for the link.  As I read it, this woman was unhappy with the Archdiocese within months of her employment in 2004.  But sure, let's hang the Archbishop anyway.

Btw, I'll assume that the word you were meant to type was "bore" and not the word that means a male pig.

Jim Dunn,

You dont know the status of the people in the organization I was referenced.  I can assure you they werent some "staff member ... or my Junior Accountant".  While all you say about the Archbishop and his ability to perform his duties has merit, we need to respect his human dignity as well and be careful to not just throw him away.

Amen Jim! Only sheeple would give their money to an institution who uses the money to protect rapists.

Of course, dismiss actual facts.

You appear to have confused her career postions, dates, etc. in order to reinforce your narrative.


Dr. Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who received her licentiate degree in canon law from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, in 2004. She also has a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of London, England, She is a member of the Canon Law Society of America and served on the Resolutions Committee of that Society. She has practiced as a canon lawyer in the United States and internationally.

Following the completion of her academic work, Dr. Haselberger returned to the United States and accepted a position as Judge on the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. She later became Director of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Crookston as well as Director of the Diocesan Safe Environment Program. After serving as the Bishop's Delegate for Canonical Affairs in the Diocese of Fargo, Dr. Haselberger returned to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to serve as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs, a position she held until establishing Canonical Consultation and Services, LLC.

In addition to her ecclesiastical appointments, Dr. Haselberger has provided consultation and advice to bishops, Catholic institutions and organizations, and religious orders. She has served on independent review boards and is a noted speaker on issues relating to canon law and the Catholic Church. 


Bruce, I am totally blown away by your saying that you are concerned for John's dignity! Do you really feel that he is wrongly accused after all that has come out? He should be fired just by the way he is about dealing with this, making him a poor manager. I know someone who was raped by a priest - what about the dignity of the childen that were raped by priests?? What about moving the priests around so they could rape more children?? This is the problem with the Catholic church; this whole feeling that priests are the victims and that they don't answer to the real law (not Canon Law). I pray that John, Kevin and his henchmen to be sued, lose their jobs, and go to jail!


Great work, and now there are the questions about the contract between the law firm and the archdiocese. The legal caveats mentioned above are on target. How about asking for a copy of the contract and see what happens? You and the legal beagles here could decipher the text. 

@Jim Englert: Haven't we all seen the simulacra that masquerade as investigations, versus the genuine article? There's a wonderful New Yorker cartoon showing someone before St. Peter at the pearly gate, where the recently deceased exclaims, "Those aren't lies! That was spin."

@Mark Logsdon: if the diocese holds the privilege, I cannot imagine a full public release (of the original report, not excerpts or a summary) unless there is a whitewash or full exoneration, except for a detail or two. That is why the most reliable investigations are done by independent law enforcement. Who pays is key.

Hermeneutic of suspicion is well warranted, based on experience.

In Ireland we lost some of our best bishops because of this kind of media frenzy, and on the basis of utterly groundless allegations. People like Jim Jenkins who believe that ALL bishops and priests are corrupt will never stop calling for clerical heads, like some latter-day Madame Lafarge. 

Carolyn Disco,

I quite agree that release of the privilege by the Diocese seems very unlikely.  Their lawyers would have a cow, as it were.  But it is not impossible as a matte of law.  Suppose Pope Francis said, Right - that's it   New broom.   Fr Sean, we thank you for your work in Boston (and so many other places).   We need you to step aside on that and your other duties, move to Minneapolis, and sort this out.  Do whatever it is that is neeed to restore to the Faithful belief in the honesty and goodness of our Church.   Do not concer yourself with monetary costs; this is God's work and we will attend to such concerns.

So Fr. Sean causes the privilege to be waived, and we see the contract, the report, its drafts, and all its attachments.

To dream ...

Mark L

Bill deHaas

paragraph 9 page 4  "I determined that I would quit my employment with the archdiocese..."  

That was within a few months of her starting her position.  What fact am I confusing?


Bruce, I am totally blown away by your saying that you are concerned for John's dignity!


Of course I am.  I am concerned each individual's dignity.  Arent you?

I dont think anyone should be fired because they did there job poorly in the past.  The real question is "are the able and willing and have the right conditions to do it well in the future?"  If not, is it because they are unable? or unwilling?  then perhaps firing is correct.  If its because of conditions, then perhaps not.

If Archbishop Nienstedt resigned, it would be his own decision, arrived at in a good discernment, presumably. Other bishops have served with honor in parishes and in teaching roles in dioceses. The man may continue as a priest in good standing, and perhaps there should be a place for him to serve the Gospel, to rebuild trust and credibility as an individual and as a member of the college of bishops. That seems fair. But would he and other bishops find that acceptable? 

Unless he is found to have committed crimes. In which case, what to do with a convicted criminal?

Let me express my appreciation to Grant for some good journalism.

It's not difficult to see the potential conflict of interest when a diocese's authorities audit themselves.  I suppose we give Archbishop Nienstedt some credit for assigning responsibility to a different bishop (albeit one who, in some way, shape or form, is responsible to Nienstedt), and for bringing in an outside firm to conduct the audit.  

There has been some discussion above of attorney-client privilege.  Do we subtract some credit from Archbishop Nienstedt for assigning the audit to a firm that would be bound by attorney-client privilege?  Is it possible to hire a law firm to do something (like conduct an audit) that isn't properly considered legal work, in which case attorney-client privilege wouldn't be present?  But I suppose that the archdiocese would insist on non-disclosure from *any* outside firm brought in to conduct the audit, whether or not it's a law firm.  Ultimately, the archdiocese, responsible to Nienstedt, "owns" the results of the audit and will be in control of what is communicated and how it's communicated.

If this were a US government executive-branch scandal rather than a diocesan scandal, the federal government's checks and balances would come into play: Congress could hold hearings, subpoena documents and potentially appoint an independent counsel.  But church governance lacks those particular checks and balances.  

If we ask the question, "If it's not appropriate for the archdioceses to self-audit, then for whom is it appropriate?", right now there isn't a ready answer.  It seems to me that the possibility of a conflict of interest would be considerably lessened if the USCCB had a mechanism for auditing a bishop.  In other words, instead of having a St. Paul/Minneapolis auxiliary conduct the audit, bring in a bishop from some other diocese.  There is precedent for the USCCB to audit dioceses, as this already happens to ensure compliance with the Dallas charter and norms.  But as far as I know, there is no mechanism in place for the USCCB to audit a bishop who is accused of behavior that falls outside of the provisions of the child-safety charter and norms.  Presumably, the USCCB  could establish these mechanisms.  Would it?

The Holy See also could audit a diocesan bishop.  I don't know what specific mechanisms are in place for this to happen, but certainly Rome has investigated bishops in the past, so it wouldn't be starting from scratch.  Would a Roman audit be preferable to a national conference audit?  Under Francis' papacy, I would have some trust.  

It would be tempting for some folks to respond, "What about the people of the archdiocese?"  But there is no formal structure or mechanism for this to occur.


@ JOL: "Best bishops"???  Really?  "Utterly groundless allegations"??? Really?

I don't "believe that ALL bishops and priests" are personally corrupt.  But they are ALL very successful politicians in the world's oldest all-male feudal oligarchy that is rotten and corrupt to the core.

I'm not interested in "calling for clerical heads" because that would only replace them with other clerical heads, equally corrupt.  

The only way out of the mess that "ALL bishops and priests" have brought us to is:




I don't know that I have a problem with attorney-client priviledge aspects of the "audit" or whatever you want to call it.  I think that is pretty standard practice with any of these things.  You don't, after all, want your outside counsel/auditor or whatever going public with some report or finding before he tells you about it.  That's fairly standard procedure now adays I think. My view is that the Archbishop's credibility is already in shambles and I wouldn't believe him if he told me the grass was green without checking it out myself.  When that's the case, it is time to go. 

In today's NYTimes, a similar article. 

In today's NYTimes, a similar article. 

I appologize for the double post. I received a reprimand from Commonweal's Comment bot, questioning my dignity, stating that I must be a human not a Spamer or something to that effect, in white letters on red background. Very intimidating. It also said that if I was a human person I could resubmit the post. I did as instructed and saw two entries. That was the very first time my dignity has been questioned by a machine. A brave new world this internet is. 

Philip - many uf us have been similarly reprimanded.  It's practically a badge of honor. 


To be honest, if I were to meet a random bishop, I would it consider it more likely than not that he had acted negligently with respect to protecting children from sexual abuse. Even after 2002, we still uncover bishops failing to act correctly.

Even if it were a much smaller percentage like 10%, I wouldn't trust any system that relies on the bishop doing the right thing. That 10% could still put a lot of children at risk.

That was the very first time my dignity has been questioned by a machine.

Never had a colonoscopy then, I guess.

Hey, Bruce - yep, saw that line and it referred to her first position with the archdiocese.  She then went to Fargo diocese for a number of years and was then hired back as chancellor.  You, again, are trying to be slick and obfuscate the facts.

She also explained her thought - rather forthright and why she did not act on that thought.  Guess you never worked for the church and were confronted with these types of ethical lapses -  happens all too often in church work.

JOL - your tiresome comparison and mantra about the Irish bishops is way off base.

First, your Irish opinion is just that - an opinion that not many in Ireland, the world, etc. share.

Second, to your point, this affadavit provides more details than ever surfaced about any Irish bishop - to compare simplistically and then conclude that a witch hunt has started is irresponsible (but typical for you).

Third - is this a witch hunt or reasonable, responsible folks who are seeing more and more facts (not subversion, not archdiocesan dodges, propoganda, etc.)

Fourth - Nienstedt is merely the third successive bishop who has failed to protect children in the archdiocese?  What is your solution beyond the constant (father/bishop, etc. have to be given the benefit of the doubt...geez, appears that that has been a 30 year pattern)

What is truly surprising is that the local district attorney still will not set up an investigation?  What goes?

Bruce, I guess I am not concerned about Nienstedt's dignity because I consider his actions to be so incredibly vile and him to be incredibly arrogant about it. This sort of action doesn't warrant a "second chance" as you suggest. How was the same abuse handled at Penn State? How was Joe Paterno's dignity and legacy handled? The same thing needs to happen to Nienstedt, Mahoney, Flynn, Finn and the list goes on.

Bill, it isn't surprising that the DA won't set up to an investigation to me because he's probably been paid off. This Archdiocese has a big wallet and so it goes.

We must note that we see in today's NY Times that Laurie Goodstein et al gave credit to Commonweal for uncovering the latest about Nienstadt. Shows that the Catholic conscience is much more aware than it was in 2002. . 

JOL, Yes, run to the media as the reason that the priests raped children and why the bishops continued to cover it up. Poor poor priests and bishops as victims!! Even the Irish Government closed their embassy to the Vatican because the abuse got so bad: Your rabid defense of the bishops makes me realize that you, like them, think it is ok to rape children and cover it up rather than make those who are accountable step down or go to prison. Alll of this could have prevented by turning priests in to the police which is something the church refuses to do.

Theodore Anderson, if you care to stand over your allegation in regard to one of Ireland's finest bishops, Donal Murray, please be informed that the allegations have long been quashed. You exercises in sneering irony are not a good substitute for calm and considered examination of the facts. In point of fact, no Irish bishop has ever thought that "it is ok to rape children" as you "rabidly" allege. Is this your idea of rational debate?

The DA has been paid off by the archdiocese? This sort of conspiracy theory is widely bruited by SNAP, but surely if the crimes of clergy and bishops were as egregious and evident as SNAP imagines, the police would have handled the criminals just as they handle lay offenders. The US is not some sort of Catholic theocracy as far as I know.

"Bruce, I guess I AM NOT CONCERNED ABOUT Nienstedt's DIGNITY because I consider his actions (UNSPECIFIED) to be so incredibly vile (UNPROVEN) and him to be incredibly arrogant about it (PRESUMABLY IN THAT HE IS DENYING THE ALLEGATIONS THAT HE HAS ASKED TO HAVE INVESTIGATE?)

" How was the same abuse (NOT THE SAME, AND PROVEN IN THAT CASE, NOT MERELY ALLEGED) handled at Penn State? How was Joe Paterno's dignity and legacy handled? (HE WAS GIVEN THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY) The same thing needs to happen to Nienstedt, Mahoney, Flynn, Finn and the list goes on."

Sorry, but this is the language of a lynch-mob.

Jim Jenkins you have no interest whatever in studying the facts about Irish bishops. You might have a look at this for starters:

The caps aren't really impressive.

I think most of us laypeople just want honesty and transpency. The legal hardline has cost us more than direct and sincere apologies would have accomplished.

It is galling, I am sure, for a prelate to go, hat in hand, and say "I'm sorry." But this kind of sacrifice is required. When omitted, and when offenses continue, people get angry.

There are serious questions about Archbishop Nienstedt's honesty. I hope he realizes this, and addresses them in a moral spirit.

I just had a couple of comments. First, I am not sure about all of the people that are defending Nienstedt. If he truly did this, then what is to defend? To defend him is to defend his actions.Second, I have concluded that all of this abuse and cover-ups across the nation and world is on purpose. The church couldn't possibly have that many priests that have raped so many children and then go to the length it does to protect them by accident. Logic tells me it is on purpose and we are seeing them fight to keep this practice. If I am wrong, then you would have seen priests being fired and handed over to the police in droves.

"facts about Irish bishops" - Now there is a really provocative idea!

While they certainly need no help from me because the Irish people have long since delivered a stinging verdict and a damning judgement of Irish hierarchs:  In overwhelming numbers the Irish people have voted with their feet.  These days, hardly any more Irish sheeple left in the pews.  

And, the hierarchs certainly have no one to blame but themselves.

Maybe JOL if you feel so pained for your brother Irish priests and bishops, you should go home to join them in the clerical cortege along to the dung heap of history.  Perhaps, you could whistle pass the graveyard for them?


Jim Jenkins, there has been a decline in church attendance in Ireland beginning long before the sex abuse scandals, and the idea that it correlates with righteous anger against the bishops accused of negligence on that front would be pretty hard to substantiate. There has been an equal decline in US Catholic membership. Lots of people are delighted at this weakening of a church that they see as a "cult". You seem to believe in the Church as the people of God ("Let the people decide") so you should not celebrate this crisis. To say that the Irish clergy are headed for the dung heap of history can easily be universalized to all clergy, as I think you do elsewhere. But the next step is to say that all Catholics and the Church as such are headed for that dung hill. What have you got to replace them? 

My point was only that Bp Donal Murray is an excellent man, priest, and theologian, and that having his head on a platter has in no way strengthened or improved the Irish church. 

Meanwhile another bout of witch-huntery seems to be in the offing:

This article is dripping and drooling with pharisaic contempt --

The trouble with Damon Linker is that he believes the doctrine of the Holiness of the Church must entail that Catholics are sexless and sinless, otherwise they must be hypocrites (and yes, he does tend to equate sex and sin); a fortiori ministers of the Gospel who do not meet a rigorist interpretation of official doctrines are to be given no leeway as ordinary, human, fallible, sexual mortals. Linker seems thrilled that the internet can expose everyone's dirty linen in public at the click of a button -- this of course includes his own. At the moment church-basher believe themselves to be beyond the reach of scandal, since they regard as peccadillos for themselves the very actions that they denounce as brazen hypocrisy in others -- but the boot can easily suddenly be on the other foot, as we see in the embarrassments inflicted on a very prominent Catholic columnist who sailed under the banner of gay marriage while sniffing at alleged clerical corruption, inviting accusations of hypocrisy when the gap between his wild sexual behavior and his public image came to light. There was wisdom in the old proverb, "people in glass houses cannot throw stones". The internet may make the whole world a village where everyone knows everything about everyone else. In the past villagers were well able to handle these "scandals" and we may have to relearn their wisdom anew.