ST. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minn., has ordered a third-party investigation of himself following recent accusations of past sexual misconduct, which the archbishop denies as being “entirely false.”
Three months ago, Archbishop Nienstedt was cleared of an accusation of inappropriately touching a male minor’s posterior during a confirmation photo shoot in 2009. During that investigation, Archbishop Nienstedt removed himself from public ministry, but he returned after no charges were brought against him.
Late in 2013, around the time the first case was opened, allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests and other men came to light, including an accusation made by a former Twin Cities, Minn., priest. It prompted a new investigation and a statement released by the archbishop denying the claims.
“These allegations are absolutely and entirely false,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “Nonetheless, I ordered Bishop Lee Piché to oversee an independent, thorough investigation and that he hire an outside firm unaffiliated with the archdiocese to conduct the investigation.”
According to a July 1 article in Commonweal magazine, the archdiocese opened an investigation in early 2014, after being informed that a former Twin Cities priest had accused Archbishop Nienstedt of making unwanted sexual advances.
In a statement to Commonweal, the archbishop said the allegations are a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”
Following the archbishop’s orders, the archdiocese sought out a third-party attorney and hired the top-ranked Minneapolis firm of Greene Espel to investigate and interview his current and former associates and employees. Archbishop Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzen flew to Washington to inform the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, of the allegations before the investigation began.
“I have ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the archdiocese,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a July 1 statement. “The archdiocese investigates all allegations of clergy misconduct. It would be unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I know them to be false.”
“Since I would instruct the archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I have ordered the archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me,” he said.
The current accusations are alleged to be at least 10 years old and do not involve minors or any layperson, nor do they implicate any illegal or criminal behavior, according to Archbishop Nienstedt’s statement.
Once the investigation is complete, Greene Espel attorneys will compile a report that will be given to the archdiocese and Archbishop Viganò, the pope’s ambassador to the United States.
Archbishop Nienstedt said, “Let us pray that the truth would come out as a result of the investigation.”