WASHINGTON — Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò released a statement responding to accusations that he had curtailed an investigation in 2014 into the sexual misconduct of Archbishop John Nienstedt.
“These accusations – alleging that I ordered the two Auxiliary Bishops of Minneapolis to close the investigation into the life of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – are false,” wrote Archbishop Viganò in a statement published online Aug. 27 by LifeSiteNews.
The former apostolic nuncio had published a testimony two days prior, calling for the resignation of Pope Francis and several cardinals and bishops on the basis of his accusation that they had covered up the sexual misconduct of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
Media accounts of that testimony included the allegation that in 2014, Archbishop Viganò had attempted to stop an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct on the part Archbishop John Nienstedt, who was at that time Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In July 2014, Father Dan Griffith sent a memo to the auxiliary bishops of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Lee A. Piché and Andrew Cozzens, saying he believed that Archbishop Viganò had instructed Bishop Piché that lawyers were “not to pursue any further leads, including an allegation... Archbishop Nienstedt may have had sexual relations with a Swiss Guardsman in Rome.”
Father Griffith said that, according to his understanding, the nuncio “ordered you to have the lawyers quickly interview Archbishop Nienstedt and wrap up the investigation.”
Archbishop Viganò’s account of the events following the meeting was different.
“I never told anyone that Greene Espel should stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document to be destroyed. Any statement to the contrary is false,” Archbishop Viganò wrote in his Aug. 27 statement.
Archbishop Viganò said that the private investigators from the law firm had conducted “an unbalanced and prosecutorial style” investigation and “wanted to immediately extend their investigation to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, without first hearing Archbishop Nienstedt.”
He noted that the law firm, Greene Espel, belongs to the group “Lawyers for All Families,” which had clashed with Archbishop Nienstedt previously over the approval of same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
“I suggested to the bishops who came to the Nunciature on April 12, 2014, that they tell the Greene Espel lawyers that it appeared to me appropriate that Archbishop Nienstedt be heard before taking this step – audiatur et altera pars – which they had not yet done. The bishops accepted my suggestion.”
“But the following day, I received a letter signed by the two auxiliaries, falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be stopped,” he continued.
“However, I did instruct one of the auxiliary bishops, Lee A. Piché, to remove from the computer and the archdiocesan archives the letter falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be halted. I insisted on this not only to protect my name, but also that of the Nunciature and the Holy Father who would be unnecessarily harmed by having a false statement used against the Church,” Archbishop Viganò added.
Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché both resigned in June 2015, after the archdiocese was criminally charged with mishandling sex abuse. Prosecutors later dropped criminal charges against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Archbishop Viganò resigned in April 2016, at the customary age of 75.
According to Viganò’s second written statement, Pope Francis ordered in July 2016 that his handling of the matter be investigated in response to The New York Times article on the subject. He claims this resulted in a written report exonerating him, which, he wrote, is “found in the Vatican Secretariat of State and at the Nunciature in Washington, DC.”
The National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency are parts of EWTN News, Inc. EWTN board member Timothy Busch has stated publicly that he spoke to Archbishop Viganò regarding his plan to release a testimony about Cardinal McCarrick prior to the Aug. 25 publication of that testimony. Additionally, following Archbishop Nienstedt’s resignation as Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2016, Archbishop Nienstedt worked as an independent contractor for the Napa Institute, a Catholic organization of which Mr. Busch is a co-founder and chairman of the board. Archbishop Nienstedt’s involvement with the Napa Institute was terminated on Aug. 15. Read their full statement here.