A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Archbishop Nienstedt: I will not resign. (Updated)

In a column that will be published tomorrow, the embattled archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis says he will not resign. Soon after I reported that Archbishop John Nienstedt was being investigated for a series allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men--part of which is now complete--an affidavit filed by Nienstedt's former top canon lawyer strongly criticized the archdiocese's sexual-abuse policies and practicies. Calls for his resignation began to grow. Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an editorial urging the archbishop to step down. So did the New York Times. But Nienstedt won't go.

Eighteen years ago, Pope John Paul II chose me to serve the Church as a bishop, an authentic successor of the apostles. A bishop’s role is more like that of a father of a family than that of a CEO. I am bound to continue in my office as long as the Holy Father has appointed me here. I have acknowledged my responsibility in the current crisis we face, and I also take responsibility for leading our archdiocese to a new and better day.

“This is what the Lord says to you," Nienstedt's column continues, citing Second Chronicles: "'Stop being afraid, and stop being discouraged because of this vast invasion force, because the battle doesn’t belong to you, but to God.'"

Apologizing for the "distractions I have inadvertently caused," the archbishop emphasizes three things about his response to the months-long scandal. First, he announces that he has a new leadership team that operates with the philosophy of "Victims First." In consultation with victims, Nienstedt says he plans to hire a new victims liason--who will be a layperson. Second, he claims that he has never knowingly covered up sexual abuse. He admits that he was too trusting of the archdiocese's process, and that "we did not handle all complaints the way we should have in the past." And third, Nienstedt says that he has always been honest with his people. Over the past year, according to the archbishop, he has learned that he must change his leadership  style.

"As author Matthew Kelly reminds us," Nienstedt concludes, "we as Catholics have a great story to tell, but we have let others tell the story for us. We need to get back to telling the story ourselves."

Update: I asked archdiocesan spokesman Jim Accurso when the investigation of Nienstedt would conclude and whether the investigating law firm's report would be made public. In response, he sent me a statement from auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, which read in part: "I have received [the law firm] Greene Espel’s information. However, this matter involves more than just their role. The investigation is ongoing and I will respond appropriately as the review process continues."

About the Author

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



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Thanks, Grant - shades of Charles Grahmann in Dallas, TX in the 1990s.

Reminds me of these quotes taken from Francis' EG encyclical and highlighted by Rev. Ed Foley:

"Unfortunately, many today no longer experience “the quiet joy of [God’s] love” (no. 2). This is prone to happen when we are caught up in our own interests that can lead into a downward spiral of resentfulness, anger and listlessness (no. 2). Christians are not immune to this spiral, and in vivid language Francis admits that some Christians pursue lives that “seem like Lent without Easter” (no. 6). A lack of joy is also predicated of the Church and its ministers, as implied in Francis’ memorable lines that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” (no. 10), nor contribute to transforming “Christians into mummies in a museum” (no. 83). The reality is that sometimes we do. More explicitly, he notes that pastoral workers are often prone to a kind of “defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists [and] ‘sourpusses’” (no. 85)."


"At the same time — especially regarding bishops/priests — there is no dearth of critique of ecclesial leadership that too often waits “passively and calmly … in our church buildings,” exercising a “ministry of mere conservation” (no. 15). In a spirit of “decentralization” the Pope urges evangelizers to “take on the smell of the sheep” (no. 24) and even get “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” (no. 49). This centrifugal instinct is matched with a strong vision of collegiality; he affirms the value of priests, deacons and the laity working together “to discover resources (no. 159).


Pope Francis is clear that it is not just an exercise of office but an ecclesial mission (no. 15). He is amazingly brave and somewhat encyclopedic about what this is and is not to be , i.e., it is not: dull (no. 11), doctrinal (no. 35), confined (no. 49), abstract (nos. 142 & 157), ugly (cf. nos. 36 and 142), obsessive (no. 49), out of contact with the local context (nos. 29, 45 &143), heartless (no. 139), essentially entertaining (no. 138), judgmental (no. 172), tortured (cf. no. 44), bureaucratic and inhospitable (no. 63), pessimistic (cf. no. 85), ostentatious (no. 95), rigid (no. 45), avuncular (cf. no. 139), self-centered (cf. no. 158), monologic (no. 137), long (no. 138), heartless (no 138), disconnected from God’s Word (no. 146), inauthentic (no. 150), negative (no. 159), oppressive (nos. 187ff), and disengaged from society (nos. 238ff).

(my transitioning this to apply to Nienstedt)


If the Archbishop were head of a family he and the family would be in court-ordered therapy by now.

"He has never knowingly covered up sexual abuse" -- there is indeed no evidence that he did and I see no reason not to believe him.

Bishop Finn, who is a convicted criminal for not reporting child sex abuse in the KC-St Joe diocese is getting away with not resigning, so of course Nienstedt thinks he can get away with not resigning under pressure also.
They both need to be fired and demoted. It's that simply. But as we can see, Pope Francis is not taking any decisive action to deal with these high ranking church officials.

Sadly the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called "zero tolerance" policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don't have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their power and the institution rather than protecting innocent children.

It's time for outside law enforcement to get involved and take these sex crimes seriously. Only when high ranking church officials are held accountable for their crimes of cover up, will children be safe within this secret system.
Silence and inaction are not an option anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others
Judy Jones,SNAP,  Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

I'm sure Matthew Kelly is thrilled to get this endorsement.

The Archbishop has just returned from an extravagant soiree at the Napa Institute in Napa Valley, CA and to see how troubled he is by the real, legitimate and documented horrors, deceit and tragedy within his own kingdom, please review the photos, including Neinstedt, at the annual Napa Institute Conference held last week.  Link:  (click on the photo at the top of the first page)

JOL states:  "He has never knowingly covered up sexual abuse" -- there is indeed no evidence that he did and I see no reason not to believe him."

Actually, there are reams of files that prove he knowlingly covered up sexual abuse.

Unless you want to parse the word - Knowlingly.  Feels more like the standard episcopal *mental (so, JOL, is he just self-delusional?)

- Shelley situationreservation* dodge.

So, JOL, are you now trying to align Nienstedt in the same camp as your *beloved* Irish bishops such as Magee, etc?  

Your mantra has little to do with objectivity, evidence, or documentation.

Examples of your ignoring facts:

- Montero situation (Nienstedt had the facts but still re-appointed him)

- Adamson situation

- Gallatin situation (Niensstedt alleges that it was a boundary issue and appointed him pastor over a parish with an elementary school - meanwhile, Gallatin was not allowed to spend the nite with kids doing retreats)

- Keating situation

- Wehmeyer situation -

a memo from Archbishop Nienstedt, I believe it was written in November of 2012, in which the Archbishop stated that he thought the priests were 'overreacting' to Wehmeyer's acts of abuse and re-appointed him

notified the Archbishop about Father Wehmeyer's history of acting out sexually, and provided him with the documentation regarding the incident at Barnes and Noble and, I believe, a copy of the Saint Luke's evaluation, at the time that Archbishop Nienstedt was considering appointing Father

'Wehmeyer as pastor in 2009. Since canon law requires a pastor 'to be outstanding in sound doctrine and integrity of morals and endowed with zeal for souls and other virtues... [and] his suitability must be clearly evident by some means determined by the diocesan bishop, even by means of an examination', I believed th¿t the information that I provided to the Archbishop, which demonstrated that Father Wehmeyer did not possess the nece\sary qualities, would effectively end any further discussion of his appointment to that position. 

I was unaware at that time that rather than perceiving this information as a warning, Archbishop Nienstedt viewed it as an opporhlrþ to seek a closer acquaintance with Father Wehmeyer.

(so, JOL, is he just self-delusional?)

- Shelley situation





The Archbishop bought copies of Matthew Kelly's Rediscover for every person in the Archdiocese, I think.  They were stacked up in the vestibules of parishes in Minneapolis and St. Paul,  Kelly and George Weigel are his recommended reading.  They both spoke at an archdiocesan renewal event last year.  If a person questions, he/she is "not thinking with the mind of the church." 


The archbishop says: 3. I have always been honest with the Catholics of this local Church ." I find it sad but I do not believe him. Why does he not open the doors of the chancery so investigators can see what ever they seek?  Why does he evade and not sit until every question is answered?  Why does the AB not release a thorough and honest accounting of what has been spent on legal fees? An honest accounting of what Arch SPM funds were spent on the marriage amendment?  These are the things that would help me believe him. Hiding these things seems dishonest. 

The Wehmeyer story is still exhibit no. 1 and concerns a priest THEN known to have an active sexual interest in adults and NOW known to have molested two minors on one occasion. I see no reason not to believe Nienstedt in regard to this much-bruited case. 

Mr Skiendzielewski, the bishop has been under intense pressure for a year, but the witch-hunters are in anguish is the bishop is not as deeply depressed as they want him to be. It's a bit like the time when a beautiful woman who smiled would be suspected of communing with Satan.

"Examples of your ignoring facts:

- Montero situation (Nienstedt had the facts but still re-appointed him)"



Bill de Haas, maybe I am missing something here, but my understanding is that Montero went back to Ecuador in July 2008, the same month in which Nienstedt was consecrated bishop. Please explain what you mean when you say Nienstedt re-appointed him.

To be sure, Nienstedt was co-adjutor to Bishop Flynn before that, from April 2007. But the issue of Montero's alleged molestation of his own child also surfaced only in July 2008. Nienstedt claims that the diocese collaborated fully with this authories in this case.

As to the "Shelley situation", where is the evidence that Nienstedt covered up or misbaved?

"- Gallatin situation (Niensstedt alleges that it was a boundary issue and appointed him pastor over a parish with an elementary school - meanwhile, Gallatin was not allowed to spend the nite with kids doing retreats)"

Gallatin rubbed a 17 yo man`s chest and abdomen in 1998 -- Nienstedt had him step down from ministry in December 2013 because of that. There is no other allegation against Gallatin.

At the same time Nienstedt removed Deacon Joseph Damiani of Church of the Annunciation in Minneapolis from ministry while the church reopens an investigation into a “previous allegation of a sexual abuse of a minor” more than 40 years ago — a claim Damiani has denied.

I do not see any evidence of knowingly covering up sex abuse here.

The "Adamson situation" concerns the 1970s and 1980s -- Adamson seems to have left the priesthood long before Nienstedt became archbishop in 2008 (Bill de Haas will presumably be able to give the date). Nienstedt cannot be blamed for mistakes made by others decades earlier, as detailed here

The "Keating situation" is detailed here


I would ask De Haas and Gallicho to try to maintain a calm and courteous tone in their eventual replies. I do not believe that banging one's fist on the table ensures clarity and justice.

And I would ask you to finally figure out a way to gather your thoughts in one comment insted of bigfooting the comment boxes. Don't reply to this. 

Grant: Perhaps Fr. O'Leary needs to first hit the save button before the next "thought" comes up in his consciousness.

If this is indeed truly the case, then it may be impossible for him together his "thoughts" together in one post.

Just a thought.

Judy -


Take your hate and vile bigotry elsewhere.


Thank you.

This should not be about JOL!  Please, any attention only encourages him.

Quelle surprise!  Nienstedt thinks he should continue to the death to serve the people of Minneapolis?!?  You have to admire the sheer emotional and psychological stamina of these guys. I guess this is what a real radical ideologue looks and sounds like?

Sounds to me that Neinstedt has lawyered-up with a new set of legal eagles - or with perhaps a new public relations campaign team to stave off being driven from office.  The new strategy:  All In!

The Vatican and its American operatives in the hierarchy have probably concluded - to paraphrase FDR - Neinstedt may be a s.o.b., but he is our s.o.b.  

The hierarchs aren't going to pull the plug just yet.  The cost analysis of the influence on the bottom-line must dictate that the hierarchs stay the course - at least for now. 

Cries can be heard coming from Minnesota:  Let my People go!

The Archbishop remains in office because a majority of his colleagues know that they could not stay if negligence in handling child abusers was disqualifying.

Amen brother, Ryan Rowekamp!

Dave, your link is to your own site, which has its own view.

The scandal under discussion, however, is not the abuse of children, but a systematic cover-up under many bishops. Even after 2004.

Still, I'm not sure Archbishop Nienstedt should be fired. He is a suitable example for the principle that orthodoxy does not equate with virtue or administrative competence. I would like to see a lay person appointed to oversee clergy management and recruiting, and those responsibities removed permanently from his plate. Then perhaps ...

Paula Ruddy,

Thank you for providing that background. I was unaware of him before reading the Archbishop's quote. I'm not impressed with apologists whose argument at its core is "I you disagree, you are wrong."

Thanks, Todd - DPierre's website is a good example of ideological dribble - quotes itself; fact checker can easily disprove most of the claims located there; it is a propaganda piece on par with Rush Limbaugh and Bill Donohue.

Mr. Jenkins - thanks for the reminder about JOL.  As I stated, his whole stance is predicated upon how you interpret, use, and believe the word *knowingly*  (shades of Tricky Dick Nixon)  And a more nuanced analysis would suggest that Nienstedt played fast and loose on a number of levels - cover-ups; burying/losing case files; delaying or dismissing victims; movement of some to other dioceses; forced to release multiple lists of clerical abusers (appears that the archdiocese and Nienstedt never did release a complete and total list despite their statements to the contrary); no effort to address his own pastors' calls for his resignation; the resignation of Laird; the feckless leadership of McDonough.

MPR and the released files/affadavits from Jeff Andersen all record documented facts about  Nienstedt's cover ups -

For example -


"MPR News reported in September that Nienstedt knew of Wehmeyer's sexual interest in younger men but kept him in ministry and did not disclose the information to parish employees. Wehmeyer later admitted to sexually abusing two sons of a parish employee.

Haselberger told the lawyers that Nienstedt had wanted to visit Wehmeyer after his arrest but an attorney for the archdiocese advised against it."  (so, how does this stand the test of *knowingly*?)

Nienstedt was appointed archbishop in 2008 after Flynn retired. He hired Haselberger as the archdiocese’s chancellor for canonical affairs. She advised the archbishop on the internal laws of the Roman Catholic Church, which include specific procedures on the handling of grave sins like child sexual abuse, and ran the records department.

A few months after she arrived, Haselberger received an angry phone call from Wehmeyer, who believed he was supposed to be listed as the pastor of Blessed Sacrament, not simply as an administrator.

Haselberger opened Wehmeyer's file and realized there was no background check on the priest, even though the diocese had a policy that required background checks for all clergy.

Haselberger kept looking, and saw documents that reported Wehmeyer had a sexual addiction and the archdiocese knew about it.

She knew that Nienstedt was considering whether to promote Wehmeyer, so she sent him a memo alerting him to review the file. She also attached a copy of the earlier psychological and sexual assessment of Wehmeyer. The priest's personnel file included evidence that Wehmeyer had violated the archdiocese's code of conduct several times.

Haselberger assumed that would end Wehmeyer's career as a priest. It did not.

While she waited for a response, the archdiocese continued to receive reports on Wehmeyer — three in 2009.

In one case, a priest called to say that Wehmeyer had approached him for sex.

Someone else reported seeing Wehmeyer acting suspiciously with boys at a campground. Those were the same boys Wehmeyer was later accused of abusing, Haselberger said. The archdiocese’s child safety policy forbids priests from spending time overnight alone with a child.

Haselberger saw handwritten notes from then-Vicar General Paul Sirba about the campground complaint. Sirba called the mother of the boys and said she needed to help Wehmeyer observe appropriate boundaries, she said. Sirba, who is now the bishop of Duluth, did not return a call for comment.

Then, around midnight after his 45th birthday in September 2009, Wehmeyer drove drunk to a Kwik Trip gas station in Spring Valley and tried to pick up some teenagers. He asked one teenage boy how old he was and invited him to his campsite to celebrate his birthday.

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, Wehmeyer pleaded with the officer not to arrest him.

"Wehmeyer stated he cannot get in trouble because he is a Catholic priest and way too many people depend on him," Fillmore County Sheriff Deputy Tim Rasmussen wrote in his report.

Rasmussen told Wehmeyer he was under arrest for drunk driving, and the priest asked to call Joseph Kueppers, a St. Paul lawyer in private practice who was one of his parishioners. Kueppers is now the top attorney for the archdiocese.

In 2009, Nienstedt appointed Wehmeyer as pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Thomas the Apostle, two St. Paul parishes that later merged.

Haselberger remembers the day she learned that Wehmeyer had sexually abused boys at Blessed Sacrament. She was walking past Andrew Eisenzimmer, the archdiocese's top attorney at the time, in the Chancery hallway.

"We've got another allegation of abuse," he said.

Haselberger followed him into his office and asked for the name of the priest.


"But I warned them," she said.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said in a statement that it immediately reported the allegations of sexual abuse by Wehmeyer to police. However, the St. Paul Police Department investigative file indicates that the archdiocese did not talk to police for several days. It also never told police about Wehmeyer's past sexual behavior.


Yep - a very strange way of defining the word *knowlingly* - an actual example of episcopal *mental reservation*

Other cases named above depend upon a careful listening to this MPR investigation:

Or, this four part series:

And let's keep in mind that Nienstedt controls the files, data, etc. - yes, we could take him at his word but what we have learned over 30years is that without the actual data, records, files it is a rush to judgment to say that Nienstedt never knowingly assigned a clerical abuser.  All of the cases listed above by JOL are based upon what information some have been able to obtain - without all the information, it is way too early to exenorate Nienstedt.  It is irresponsible to just accept a verbal statement - where is the proof that Nienstedt never knowingly assigned a clerical abuser?  (and lawyers, MPR, new organizations continue to file freedom of record requests and file motions in courts to get at the records - that alone tells us something)


Todd Flowerday,

I believe it is the way that orthodoxy was defined when selecting bishops lead to the lack of virtue and administrative competence. The ability to regurgitate the correct formula seems to have been valued over all else.

I am not aware of any news article that summarizes the actual evidence backing the case for demanding the archbishop's resignation. The various editorials are vague, leaving his personal culpability unclear. The best I have been able to find so far is the final chapter of the MPR investigation, which is the only part to do with Nienstedt:

Below I have copied the parts specifically describing actions and words of Nienstedt in particular (which are in addition to what Bill has already excerpted above), largely for my own benefit: 

Nienstedt would later claim that he was "blindsided" in the fall of 2013 by an MPR News investigation that showed top church leaders had covered up abuse for decades.


"When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole question of clerical sexual abuse had been taken care of, I didn't have to worry about it," Nienstedt told reporters in December. "Unfortunately, I believed that." ...

The archbishop's first decision was to remove the Rev. Kevin McDonough from the top post he'd held for 17 years...


Nienstedt appointed the Rev. Lee Piche as his new vicar general. A year later, he appointed a second vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird, who took over most duties.


The archbishop gave one of the most sensitive jobs in the chancery to a 33-year-old canon lawyer named Jennifer Haselberger...


She notified Nienstedt in a memo: "I would prefer to have something in writing regarding the accusation, the investigation, and its resolution."


Nienstedt replied with a handwritten note: "I do not understand your reaction. It seems a bit extreme."


...Nienstedt asked her to review the files of priests who had sexually abused children to make sure the paperwork was in order. ...


The archbishop told Haselberger that he had too many problems to fix all at once.


"As you have probably noticed by now, there have been in the past a good number of transactions in which proper canonical processes were not followed or, if followed, they were not properly recorded," Nienstedt wrote in a Dec. 19, 2008, memo to Haselberger.


"Given this situation, I do not believe that it is prudent for us to try and correct all the mistakes of the past thirty years in my first six months."


He added, "I certainly do not want to become known as the Archdiocesan Savonarola." ...


...Nienstedt told his senior advisers that he preferred to communicate in writing.


At a meeting of senior advisers, Nienstedt said, "Don't talk to me," Haselberger recalled. "If you see me in the halls, don't stop me and ask a question about something you're working on because if you do, I will say whatever it takes to get you to end the conversation." ...


Haselberger was torn because, in a handful of cases, Nienstedt had followed her advice.


The archbishop tried to remove two men — the Rev. Harry Walsh and the Rev. Joseph Wajda — from the priesthood. Both had been accused of abuse decades earlier and denied the allegations.


Nienstedt explained to the Vatican why the archdiocese hadn't reported the allegations against Walsh sooner. "As you are aware, I only become Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in May of 2008," he wrote. "Therefore, these decisions were taken prior to my arrival in this Archdiocese."


Although Nienstedt was successful in getting Walsh kicked out, he didn't tell parishioners. ...


Nienstedt returned the memo with a handwritten note on the side: "This is the first I've heard of this," he wrote. "How do you and Andy suggest we proceed? Please advise."


Haselberger recommended that the archbishop cut off the payments.


Domeier, the former accounting director, told MPR News that Nienstedt already knew about the payments and had approved them every year. ...


She concluded, "I ask, on behalf of all the members of the faithful of this Archdiocese, that you take your responsibilities toward the protection of the young and vulnerable seriously, and that you allow an independent review of all clergy files, and that you publish the list of all known offenders."


Nienstedt composed a brief reply. "His letter said that he accepted my resignation and that he'd enjoyed working with me, and that was the extent of it," Haselberger recalled. ...


Laird met privately with Nienstedt and asked him to tell the public that he had opposed Wehmeyer's appointment as pastor.


Nienstedt refused. A week later, Laird resigned.


The archbishop responded to the scandal with promises of transparency. He convened a task force and hired a firm to review clergy files.


Nienstedt told priests that he was "blindsided" by the reports of a cover-up.


"We had so many other things happening with the strategic plans and with the Rediscover [outreach] program, and trying to get on top of the financial difficulties that we had, and that's kind of where my focus was," Nienstedt said. "And I presumed that this was being handled correctly, and it obviously wasn't."


After the first news reports, "You just felt like a punching bag, you know," Nienstedt said. "It's one thing coming after another after another."


The archbishop blamed the media. "People in communications say this is probably MPR's one chance to get a Pulitzer Prize, like the Boston Globe did during the Cardinal Law period where they were able to string things together and come up with a kind of a mounting climax of the whole thing pointing blame and that sort of thing."


Nienstedt sought to reassure his priests. "I am on your side," he said. "And it hurts me whenever we have to take steps against a priest because I, like you, hold the priesthood in such esteem. But we're just living in this atmosphere now...I think, in order to reestablish credibility, we have to be able to say we don't have anyone in ministry who is a danger to children or to vulnerable adults."


Nienstedt told his priests that he was trying to be honest and straightforward with them. Within months, however, he would authorize a secret investigation into his private life. In a statement released earlier this month, Nienstedt acknowledged that a law firm had been commissioned to investigate allegations of misconduct against him. ...


Under oath, Flynn said he could no longer remember most of the abuse cases, and Nienstedt said his deputies had assured him that the cases had been handled properly.

Is it not possible to interpret all this as an earnest archbishop who appointed someone who brought all this to light (with the help of his policy which put all internal communication in writing), but meanwhile remained hamstrung and decieved by the corruption of other deputies? I think it is. Nienstedt comes out as far from a hero but also plausibly innocent, someone with mistaken priorities that he is now pledging to correct. Perhaps he should resign out of incompetence but who among us has come into a situation like what he faced? Is it not possible that we have a somewhat naive person here who is being scapegoated for the situation created by past leaders - all because he has effectively brought these things to light and been unskilled at PR? What am I missing?

The Star Tribune calling for his resignation actually acknowledges that Nienstedt has become the face of the coverup "[d]eservedly or not." Am I totally off, or isn't it better to determine whether someone deserves to be blamed for something before demanding that they be blamed for it? I disagree with Nienstedt on most things, and it seems possible that he is a very disturbed individual enmeshed in self-deception even more than is usual for us humans, but so far the evidence is thin that he is primarily to blame here. I mean, there's a "the buck stops here" theory that says the head needs to resign regardless of whether he/she was directly involved. But that doesn't seem to be the case everyone is making. Instead, I see outrage more or less arbitrarily directed at a somewhat pathetic figure who may have had a net positive impact on the sex abuse coverup situation in the archdiocese.

After also reviewing some of Grant's excellent reporting (, I can't understand why there is not more emphasis being put on punishing those responsible:

What we can say is that McDonough, the lead villain as far as I can tell, no longer has a position with the diocese (though I can't tell what his current position is - perhaps he should be defrocked); Shelley is under police investigation (and meanwhile not in ministry); and Laird is out, resigned (and possibly spreading misinformation to protect himself).

However, Wieser (lawyer), Accurso (PR), and Sawyer (advocate) remain in their positions at the diocese, as far as I can tell. That seems outrageous to me. A step that Nienstedt could take short of resignation is to publicly criticize their actions that contributed to the coverup, as well as, more importantly, publically criticize the misdeeds of the former Archbishop Flynn. If Archbishop Nienstedt does not do that, then calls for his resignation make a lot more sense to me, and his claims that he has "created a new leadership team" and that he was simply "too trusting of our internal process and not as hands-on as I could have been" will continue to ring hollow.

Tim and Todd - thanks for the careful effort to highlight partsof the MPR investigative piece.  You appear to base your conclusion on *not having hard, documented evidence*.  And yet, how do you arrive at this conclusion given what we now know about Wehmeyer (as one example)?  What about the facts that none of us really know all of the facts because Nienstedt chose to handle these situations in a rather bizzare fashion - no notes (yet, subsequent affadavits show that both he and the associate bishop had their own private notes and files (which they later destroyed); on the one hand, he instructed or replied to some e.g. Haselberger not to do a careful, professional, and documented approach and then on the other hand wanted documentation e.g. via certain handpicked individuals; finally, none of us really knows because not all of the data, files, or information is public.

So, we have a dilemma - one approach is that he is merely an incompetent, pyschologically difficult individual who has tried his best but his own dysfunction and his leadership team failed him (but this doesn't prove he committed crimes or cover-ups)........and the other approach is that he is responsible for the safety of children and the overwhelming evidence currently (and there will be much more) is that he failed in his episcopal role to protect children.  (it doesn't matter if he is incompetent, too trusting of subordinates; too focused on other priorites; believed statements that were not completely truthful, etc.- each of these and all together one can arrive at a position that Nienstedt is not capable of protecting children - historically, recently, or in the future).

Wonder what your conclusion would be if you were a parent in that archdiocese or a parent of a victim? 

Do you think any current corporation CEO, CFO, or COO would still have their position if this was about employees who were victims of sexual harassment or abuse and an initial investigation revealed this level of incompetence; poor leadership decisions; choosing subordinates who failed, lied, or hid data?   Even in today's world of corporate malfeasance and comfy board of directors-CEO relationships, they would be gone.

From Mark Silk:

From Michael Sean Winters:

High Points:

"Archbishop Nienstedt is deceiving himself. Like Chamberlain on the morning of May 10, 1940, he thinks the crisis requires him to stay when to the rest of the world, the precisely opposite conclusion is the obvious one. Nienstedt finishes his column with these words: “As author Matthew Kelly reminds us, we as Catholics have a great story to tell, but we have let others tell the story for us. We need to get back to telling the story ourselves. God Bless you!” The Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Paul do have a “great story to tell,” but their archbishop seems clueless to the fact that the chapter he has contributed is the saddest chapter in the book. 


Note - lived through the damage and loss of morale over 10 years after Grahmann refused to retire subsequent to the Rudy Kos trial (in which Grahmann gave false testimony and lost his temper).  Similar to Nienstedt, Grahmann became bishop after the Kos abuse happened and the other clerical abuser cases had happened.  But, he also failed to respons to Kos correctly and had hidden other abusers cases and impacts.  Like Nienstedt, he blamed the local media, he and his chancellor blamed the victims' parents, he covered up facts and data.  As a result, Grahmann refused to step down (per some high placed diocesan lay advisors, he had promised to step down when the Kos trial ended - $127 million dollar judgment later reduced to $28 million).  Dallas got a bishop who was to take over from Grahmann at a time to be named but Grahmann refused to abide by the nuncio's assignment of this bishop.  Eventually, that bishop was re-assigned out of frustration and a dysfunctional diocesan working relationship.  The diocese saw ten years of no significant financial investments; no donations/giving/etc.  A lay foundation was set up to parallel the diocese and gathered donations; invested, and awarded grants, etc. to local parishes, schools - this foundation continues today.  Some of the key pastors organized and via legal support, shifted parish money away from the diocese; designated monies for parish use separate and protected from the diocese.  The diocese basically went into a ten year hibernation waiting for Grahmann to rerach age 75 and then Benedict accepting and replacing him which happened years after turning 75.

It is hard to balance the mission, needs, and safety of the archdiocese with the personal feelings of one man who thinks he has some type of mission.  And Nienstedt's quote from Matthew Kelly really was interesting - our parish is currently using Kelly's *Dynamic Catholic* book which was given out on Easter week-end.  It talks about how to be a dynamic catholic via four areas - study, prayer/liturgy, generosity, and mission/outreach.  One can concisely summarize Kelly's point - do we choose to be followers or disciples?

Hard to see Nienstedt's decision as *dynamic*, as discipleship, as generous, or as mission/outreach.....rather, it is all about him.



I want to ask you to remain focused on the facts. MSW's own post is an example of failing to do that:

He writes, “I have created a new leadership team that operates under the philosophy of ‘Victims First,’” which would have been fine if he had said these words and taken these actions circa 2002, not 2014.

Well, central to the facts of this case is that Nienstedt did not become archbishop of St. Paul until 2008. In fact, it is absolutely essential to take into account the nature of the situation that he came into. Archbishop Flynn was universally lauded as exemplary in his handling of sex abuse cases, but he was secretly a complete hypocrit. His right hand man, McDonough, was a charismatic figure universally beloved (whose brother is now the White House chief of staff) - it turns out he was deeply duplicitous, but he was the only one who knew the full story about the diocese's situation with sex abuse, so Nienstedt had little option but to trust him on it, at least initially.

The key decisions regarding Wehmeyer, for instance, were made in 2009, very shortly after Nienstedt was given charge of the diocese, after a year apprenticeship under the duplicitous Flynn. Is it not understandable that Nienstedt deferred judgment to McDonough during that period on personnel, having such little knowledge himself?

It's not enough to just say: "Terrible things have happened in this archdiocese in the past 20 years, so off with the head of the person currently in charge." If Nienstedt has been a positive force on net (with regard to sex abuse), it would probably be best to keep him in charge. If not, not. There's no getting away from a careful examination of the role he, in particular, has played. Remember that he could be replaced with someone as duplicitous as Flynn was. 

Thanks to Tom Huegerich for bringing  a touch of sanity and respect for facts. I am still aghast at Bill de Haas who wrote "Examples of your ignoring facts: - Montero situation (Nienstedt had the facts but still re-appointed him)". When I pointed out that Montero went back to Ecuador in July 2008, the same month in which Nienstedt was consecrated bishop, so that this alleged "fact" could not be correct, I received more abuse.I hereby withdraw from the fray.

Thank you, Jiseph.  :o)   The Montero situation is even more clear cut with regard to Nienstedt than you say, however. The actual date that Montero went back to Ecuador is July 2007. (And, to fix dates for further discussion, Nienstedt was Coadjutor under Flynn from April 2007 through May 2008, when Flynn retired.)  


Tim - understand your context and mostly agree with it.  Where I disagree is that he was part of the diocese prior to 2008.  (think you are misreading what MSW cites there)  Yes, he made his Wehmeyer decision early after his taking over but you also ignore other evidence e.g. Jennifer Haselberger's affadavit in which she explicated exactly what she did in terms of highlighting the Wehmeyer case with Nienstedt; his refusal to accept or discuss that internal investigation; and then his assignment of Wehmeyer.  He also had other archdiocesan boards and leaders in place that he could have consulted with - rather, he ignored them.

Sorry, I don't buy the *new to the job* stuff nor *had to trust those in power* - he had time prior to taking over to look at the leadership team of the diocese and, as you state above, he did nothing to change the clerics on this team.  OTOH, he did hire Haselberger - but, then allowed either his own judgment or his clerical team to override her better recommendations.  Call it what you want - he is cupable in this and failed to protect children.  Finally, you and I also disagree on how much he let his clerical team dictate decisions - this runs counter to other archdiocesan situations in which Nienstedt acted in a very unilateral way e.g. same sex marriage campaign.  You also don't include the evidence from Laird's affadavit in which he clearly shows that Nienstedt ignored, dismissed, or contradicted many of Laird's recommendations and advice.  As you look across many departments of the archdiocese, you get a picture that Nienstedt rarely acted just on others' advice - he acts unilaterally; often percipitously without consideration, discussion, or any documented evidence that might suggest another course of action.

You are looking for a *smoking gun* - sorry, I don't see this as a legal case needing overwhelming evidence.  As bishop, he has failed his duty, responsiblities, and should be held accountable.  He has now made this into a story *about him*; his arrogance; his opinionated manner of leadership.  He can remain as archbishop (and will) but, in reality, he is no longer archbishop - he is the emperor with no clothes and a symbol of hypocrisy.  The episcopal office is about *service* - what service will happen here beyond serving himself or some outmoded or wrong-headed concept of authority.

He says he will now reshape the archdiocese and child safety - so, how many chances does he get to make this right?  Until we find a smoking gun while he continues to disrupt, delay, and resist any chance to find and discover the whole story.  Sorry, where there is smoke, there is fire.

Jennifer Hasselberger really cooked his goose as it were. Will those here who are supporting Nienstadt explain this?

Are you referring to page 87 of the Haselberger affadavit? (Please, provide quotes, if at all possible. It shouldn't be necessary for you to do, because there should be a news story or blog post clearly laying out the evidence against Nienstedt in particular, backing a case for his resignation. But there is not, as far as I know.) That page is vague and leaves open the possibility that any information Nienstedt got was filtered and framed by McDonough. I haven't read the entire affadavit, but my sense from what I have read is that Haselberger was not part of Nienstedt's inner circle but instead could only communicate with him through McDonough and Laird.

You state that Nienstedt "had time prior to taking over to look at the leadership team of the diocese." Yeah, during that time, Flynn was overseeing him, and everyone in the place was loyal to Flynn. Who was going to help Nienstedt understand what was really going on? According to the the MPR narrative, Flynn and all those who helped him cover up his horrificly hypocritical (according to MPR) handling of abusive priests were desperate to keep these horrors hidden.

I'm not familiar with Laird affadavit, but I tend to discount it because I consider Haselberger to be more scrupulous and therefore trustworthy. Have you read what she has to say about Laird? "...talking to Father Laird was like talking to a brick wall. He had absolutely no compassion..." (p. 88) "It is my belief that Father Laird's decision to resign when his role in those matters became public was an attempt to avoid further negative publicity for him personally, rather than to demonstrate accountability... ... even before I resigned, Father Laird was very aggressive in trying to push the blame for what had taken place on Father McDonough, and to try and distance himself from the decision making in the Wehmeyer and Shelley matters. ...The purpose of my memo was to demonstrate that Father Laird had been very involved in the decision making, despite his protestations to the contrary, as well as to show how tenuous was his relationship to the truth." (pp. 37-38) It goes on like that for pages, showing Laird dishonesty point by point.

I don't disagree with you that Nienstedt could micromanage when he wanted to. That is exactly what I had in mind when I described his "mistaken priorities that he is now pledging to correct." My sense is that he was focused on same-sex marriage whatever (which I view as a deeply misguided priority) and other aspects of his understanding of evangelization, while he delegated much administration such as pastor asignments and matters related to sex abuse. Remember, not only he but also the entire country, including the news media, viewed his predecessor Flynn as an exemplar with regard to sex abuse protocol. Haselberger could see through that, but I'm sure that most Commonweal readers would have dismissed her as batty because of her apparently ultra-conservative views - and that seems to be the approach the established diocesan staff took to her as well.

Having just read Haselbergers own thoughts on whether Nienstedt should resign, I am confirmed in my cautious opposition to it. She lays out two solid reasons against his resignation on p. 105. (I am discounting her first reason.) Then she says her opinion changed because of the accusations of improper sexual conduct against Nienstedt. I agree that if these accusations are true, he should promptly resign. But I honestly see no indication that they are true. Time will tell. Like many people, Haselberger has already concluded that the accusations have merit (at the bottom of the aforementioned p. 87). I don't begrudge her that attitude after what she's seen and been through, but I note that she does not actually cite any evidence for it.

Haselberger goes on, on pp. 106-107, to detail ways in which she things Nienstedt has been dishonest in recent public statements. These are the sort of things that most concern me, and which could form the basis of a solid case for resignation. Perhaps most concerning of all is her footnote 114, stating that her (heroic) offer to return to her job has been declined. In my view, it would be much more productive to pressure the diocese to hire her back and take similar measures (such as removing Wieser, Accurso, and Sawyer) rather than to demand resignation and replacement with someone possibly more duplicitous than Nienstedt.

Thanks, Tim - just a side note.  Some of us were involved in the Lafayette, LA situation back in the 1980s and have read the books and opinions from folks such as Jason Berry, Tom Doyle, and R. Mouton.  If you were aware of this situation, Flynn never was seen in a positive light.

Any review of the families in Lafayette who tried to deal with Flynn quickly corrects any positive feelings toward Flynn - most folks celebrated when he left Lafayette.

Sorry, understand your stance but, IMO, it feels like a version of *I'm just following orders* - Nienstedt had been a diocesan bishop; he knows the politics in a diocesan situation.  You try to paint a picture in which McDonough is leading the diocese (not Flynn) and that he is the roadblock in Nienstedt not making prudent decisions early in his term.  IMO, this is just a dodge and a dodge that many bishops have tried to use.  (as MSW says, after 2002, this dodge is hard to accept at face value).

Just as you disqualify some of Haselberger's points, so I choose to disqualify other of her points - e.g. Laird's affadavitt.

Again, your focus is a legal one with a smoking gun (e.g. if he personally was involved sexually).  My focus is on the common good and the church of the archdiocese and the continued safety of children - Nienstedt is unable to meet any of these goals.

From a news channel interview today with Nienstedt:

When questioned about his time as Bishop of the New Ulm Diocese, the Archbishop tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS his memory about incidents when he was in charge there between 2001 and 2007 are not as clear.

We asked if he ever received a report about a priest sexually abusing a child and then reported it to police.

"My recollection is a little, ah, short at this point," Nienstedt said. "Um, but I think, um, I just don't remember, to be honest with you."

Some see his response as a bombshell.

Dr. Charles Reid, a lawyer and Catholic Church expert at the University of St. Thomas, says Nienstedt's response is "absolutely unbelievable."

"He either knows or he doesn't know," Reid said. "It is an absolutely unbelievable response." 

Reid says Nienstedt's response deserves further investigation because it seems to indicate "something could have happened in New Ulm regarding misconduct by a priest."

Nienstedt says he has no intention of resigning.

Thanks, Bill. I'm happy to learn that Jason Berry and others were onto Flynn earlier. I doubt that Nienstedt would have given their accounts credence, unfortunately, which would be to his great discredit.

Can you give me an example from Laird's affadavit (or do you mean deposition) of advice he gave that Nienstedt should have taken? Preferably the example that makes the strongest case for Nienstedt's resignation (with a link so I can read the specifics).

Do you not agree that McDonough seems like the central figure here (based on the MPR report)? (And I think he is still the pastor of two parishes, lamentably, though I can't tell for sure whether he has been removed recently, after he resigned from the St. Thomas board..) In my mind, the central issue for evaluating Nienstedt's leadership is his relationship with McDonough. Did he intentionally demote McDonough (from vicar general) and hire Haselberger to help neutralize McDonough? Or was he completely duped by McDonough, only completely by chance setting in motion his undoing? Most importantly, does Nienstedt remain duped by McDonough?

This new question about New Ulm is concerning, but it seems early to jump to conclusions. Trying to see things from Nienstedt's perspective, the man has been through a stressful year and an intense couple days and it is understandable if he doesn't remember something 10 years ago when put on the spot (without time to review his notes, etc.). But I certainly agree it deserves further investigation.

p.s. Why isn't anyone calling for St. Louis Archbishop Carlson's resignation? See: (in addition to Grant's exposure of his recent, persistent lying).

It just doesn't make sense that Nienstedt should be held accountable for what Roach, Carlson, Flynn, and McDonough did. But if Nienstedt is standing in the way of accountability for them, that is another story.

Agree - Carlson is just as bad as Nienstedt - both in his various appointments and his falitures in covering up clerical abusers.  Actually, there have been some local writers and SNAP calling for his resignation but not on the same scale (no big newspaper editorials, etc.)

Wonder if many aren't waiting for the young priest's trial to begin in September and what involvement Carlson had e.g. threatening the family to drop their criminal case; his interfering with the offer to pay a bride to drop the case; his personal involvement with this priest since his seminary days and moving from diocese to diocese and lving with him.

The two archdioceses (from a news perspecitive) are very different.  STL has had the abuse cases going on dating back for at least 2, if not 3, archbishops e.g. Burke, Dolan as auxiliary and his Friday case readings (he lost roughly 40 lbs during that experience), etc. STL had to being putting together a list of abusers,etc. before Carlson. 

Minneapolis-St.Paul - it has all come to the forefront under Nienstedt (is that because of McDonough and Flynn - don't know).

Thanks, Bill. In any case, the St. Paul Archdiocese is going to need something deeper than Matthew Kelly now, and it's kind of sad that Archbishop Nienstedt doesn't get that, though I don't envy his job as teacher. I would recommend to anyone reeling, as I am, from coming so late to this knowledge of the depth of corruption in our dioceses.

Imagine if Nienstedt had used this quote in his column instead of the bizarre one he chose: "If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ." (Phil 3:4-7)

Imagine if he went on to explain: "So here is what Paul is pointing towards as the Real Thing: one of the signs of the Real Thing being present is that *none* of the usual forms of religious or moral safety apply. He, Paul had every reason to think that he was safely involved in the worship of the Real Thing – he was a circumcised Hebrew with a genuine lineage, a devout practitioner of Torah according to one of the highly regarded schools, blameless in his observance of the mitzvot, and fully involved from his heart in the struggle against those who were misleading his people. Yet, when YHWH who he thought he had been worshipping revealed himself to him as “YHWH Jesus whom you are persecuting” he came to see that in the eyes of the Anointed One, all of these safe forms of goodness had actually been a hindrance to him. In the light of the discovery that his system of goodness had killed Jesus, counting God as a transgressor, he came to see that his wholehearted complicity in the system of goodness was something much more like being a fraud than it was like being a good person, and that in order to receive the goodness to which the system pointed, he had to let go of the system completely." (James Alison's exposition)

Imagine if he said, "Like Paul, I thought I was good and holy because of my status as Archbishop, my orthodoxy, and my invitation to keynote at the Napa Institute. I thought I was good to protect the reputations of my brother bishops, trust my staff, and maintain a positive image for our archdiocese. But instead, I was completely lost, gravely wrong. In reality, I was persecuting Jesus in the victims I failed to protect and console, and now I am seeking forgiveness from Him - and from all of you, especially the victims of abuse by my priests."

This is the story he has to tell, that of his addiction to fake goodness and his excruciating realization of the evil in which he was complicit. And we have to tell the same story in our own way, as we realize our own hypocrisy. So Matthew Kelly is right, in that sense.

Alison focuses on Maciel as a poor tortured soul and deplored St John Paul's II blindness, but he lauds Ratzinger's role; this is rather fairer than jumping the gun on other individuals.

"This is the story he has to tell" -- "his excruciating realization fo the evil in which he was complicit" -- this is the language of an inquisitor.

Give it a break, JSOL!

Who is Matthew Kelly, anyway?

Tim - agree with Bill Hunt's review of that book.  Unfortunately, Kelly's catholic points too often do focus on pieties and a sacramental approach that is pre-VII and this is especially true in Rediscover Catholicism (for all I know, that may be why Nienstedt liked it - see Paula Ruddy's comment above - it is exactly to this point but then, given his same sex stance and participation in the Napa Valley stuff, he is a cultural war bishop - so sad).

We have used Kelly's main book project:  Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic:

His management approach in Dynamic Catholic is actually a good tool to begin parish discussions and reflection on whether you are a disciple or just a follower.  This book has sections that would challenge what Nienstedt is doing or not doing in his archdiocese.

JOL - you stated above....."When I pointed out that Montero went back to Ecuador in July 2008, the same month in which Nienstedt was consecrated bishop, so that this alleged "fact" could not be correct, I received more abuse.I hereby withdraw from the fray"   What's up - can't even keep your word about withdrawing from the fray?  Really wish you would so that we don't have to continue trying to *gather your thoughts* - it is a tiring experience.

In a fruitless effort to respond to some of your *mindless* mass comment boxes above:

"Neither side is talking details, but Nienstedt's deposition is a response to a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim who claims he was sexually abused by former priest Tom Adamson between 1976 and 1977 when he was assigned to a church in St. Paul Park. Adamson is accused of abusing dozens of boys and was shuffled from parish to parish.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona are also named in the lawsuit, and the judge has given lawyers permission to ask about other cases as it goes forward -- including questions about whether the church helped Father Francisco Montero flee to Ecuador, where he may still be in the priesthood.

Lawyers have also been giving the green light to ask whether Nienstedt failed to report abuse allegations against Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer.

The church is in the process of handing thousands of pages of priest abuse documents to the courts -- but Anderson says the archbishop remains reluctant to turn over those files. In fact, he says Nienstedt walked when he asked the following question:

"Why not just turn over these files that you know to be credibly accused to the professionals, to law enforcement?"

Anderson says there are still dozens of pedophile files locked away in the chancery's secret archives, and he wants police to "get search warrants, seize these files."

"Why haven't they?" he asked. "Begs the question -- and why won't they begs a serious question."

Fox 9 News asked the Ramsey County attorney and St. Paul police why they haven't gone over to the archdiocese with a search warrant to simply take the files. Local officials explained that they still don't know what the church means when it says "credibly accused," and haven't gotten an answer."

Some other points:

- Nienstedt was auxiliary when Montero left - did Nienstedt do anything about this and did he follow up a few months later as archbishop with Ecaudorian church officials?

- Adamson......Nienstedt was not bishop in the 1970s but why resist, delay, dismiss follow up claims and actions about Adamson?  (this is also part of the meaning of cover up)  And is Adamson also part of the archdiocesan clerical abuser group that has been receiving financial support all these years?  In some cases, appears to be a quid pro quo - resign and payments are made.




Clearly the case directly against Nienstedt, like that directlyagainst Ratzinger, is fading away into suppositions and various retrospective counsels of perfection. 

The case against Ratzinger - it is solid unless you believe the propoganda of the curia.

Suggest reading Keiran Tapsell's new book - Potiphar's outlines the bella figura of Benedict, etc.; the game of mental reservation he played with the Irish Church, etc.

Thought you were departing from the *fray* - like Nienstedt and Ratzinger - your words are all *mental reservation*.

Bill de Haas, it is not sufficient justification for your false statement that Nienstedt gave Montero diocesan appointments to say that he was auxiliary (for 2-3 months) at the time Montero quit the diocese. SInce you introduced that false statement as an example of me ignoring "facts" you should have been man enough to apologize for it.

As Grant Gallicho would say, if he bothered to correct your wild postings: "You don't need a degree in the abuse scandal in order to learn the facts you want to opine about. What I object to is your confident declaration of this or that non-fact, which you do base your opinions on. That's one of the reasons your opinions about this matter are so often wrong. I'm not trying to convict anyone of anything (well, except perhaps you--of spending more time learning about the subjects you address in a public forum). I just thinks the facts matter."

"Brokeback Mountain" as a model of gay enlightenment! At least the Abp has taste. 

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment