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Memo: nuncio curtailed investigation of Minnesota archbishop

July 21, 2016

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, then apostolic nuncio to the United States, directed that an investigation into Archbishop John Nienstedt’s alleged homosexual activity be curtailed, and subsequently asked two auxiliary bishops to destroy a letter about the case, according to a 2014 memo released on July 20 by prosecutors in Minnesota.

The memo’s author, identified in press reports as Father Daniel Griffith, served as liaison between the archdiocese and members of the investigative team. Archbishop Nienstedt, then archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, authorized the investigation into his alleged homosexual activity in January 2014.

In the memo—written in July 2014 after the investigation ceased—Father Griffith recounted in detail the history of the investigation. By April, ten affidavits contained “compelling” allegations of “sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; reprisals in response to the rejection of unwelcome advances; and excessive drinking.”

“Even if the Archbishop was innocent, the evidence was damaging enough that it would render him incapable of leading the Archdiocese,” wrote Father Griffith, who noted that the investigators still had 24 leads to pursue.

Auxiliary Bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzens traveled to Washington to meet with the apostolic nuncio in the hopes of achieving a “pastoral solution” in which Archbishop Nienstedt resigned. Subsequently, the nuncio ordered the investigation curtailed—leading the auxiliary bishops to write a letter to the nuncio expressing their disagreement with that decision. According to the memo, the nuncio then asked the bishops to destroy their letter.

“The destruction of evidence is a crime under federal law and state law and the fact that this request was made of you by a papal representative to the United States is most distressing,” Father Griffith, who is also an attorney, said in his memo to Bishop Piché.

In the memo, Father Griffith also said that Archbishop Nienstedt’s predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn, traveled to Rome to express his concerns about Archbishop Nienstedt’s alleged lifestyle to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, then prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Archbishop Nienstedt and Bishop Piché both resigned in 2015.

The release of the memo and other documents came along with an announcement that county prosecutors would not press criminal charges against the archdiocese in the case of Father Curtis Wehmeyer, who was assigned to a parish despite the archdiocese’s knowledge that he solicited sex from 19-year-old and 20-year-old males. Father Wehmeyer-- described by Father Griffith as having a “social relationship” with Archbishop Nienstedt-- subsequently abused two adolescents at the parish and is serving a five-year prison term.

The current archbishop, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, apologized for the archdiocese’s failure to prevent the abuse. In return for dropping of criminal charges, the archdiocese agreed to expand an agreement that had already been reached with law-enforcement officials last December, giving public officials authority to monitor and supervise the archdiocese in its handling of abuse complaints. That December agreement, in turn, had been struck in order to settle civil complaints against the archdiocese.

Following the release of the Griffith memo, Archbishop Nienstedt reiterated his denial of the allegations against him.

“I want to be clear and reiterate the public responses that I have made since the investigation began,” he said. “I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life. I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.”

The allegations, he added, were “a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Catholic Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same sex marriage.”

 
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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Jul. 23, 2016 8:00 AM ET USA

    When? When? When will ecclesial authority finally come to realize that the 50 year old practice of never mentioning the word sin has deadly consequences?

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Jul. 22, 2016 9:32 AM ET USA

    As someone who has studied these episodes as much as anyone, I believe Abp. Nienstedt far more than I do Fr. Griffith. The fact that Griffith believes that Nienstedt should resign "even if he were innocent" should raise a BIG red flag with everyone and place doubt on his credibility. Catholics need to wake up to the fact that the Church is being attacked *viciously and relentlessly* from both the outside and *within*! - DPierre

  • Posted by: Art Kelly - Jul. 22, 2016 2:45 AM ET USA

    A key sentence in the article: "Archbishop Nienstedt, then archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, authorized the investigation into his alleged homosexual activity in January 2014." If Archbishop Nienstedt had anything to hide, he apparently could have at least delayed, and possibly prevented, an investigation of himself. After looking at some of the "evidence" in the investigation, the Vatican might have concluded that the Archbishop was innocent and the victim of a smear campaign.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jul. 21, 2016 8:08 PM ET USA

    This is shameful. Spare us from this blatant clericalism.

  • Posted by: filioque - Jul. 21, 2016 6:44 PM ET USA

    I am inclined to believe Archb. Nienstedt, who has been an outspoken opponent of the homosexual agenda. But it was a bad move to reassign the priest who then molested two adolescents and to try to destroy the bishops' letter. Perhaps the nuncio thought it was all an unjust retaliation, but that was not the way to deal with it. Tragically, the Church's credibility has been shredded and we will probably see more cases like this.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jul. 21, 2016 6:32 PM ET USA

    100% right on.

  • Posted by: mwean7331 - Jul. 21, 2016 6:26 PM ET USA

    Is there no psychological screening done when a man applies to seminary for priesthood. A Bishop or other prelate doesn't acquire these abnormalities over night. If allegations are true this Bishop never should have been elevated to this position. some one is "looking the other way" So dangerous for the souls of all involved. I fear for them.God will not be mocked.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Jul. 21, 2016 1:35 PM ET USA

    This is indicative of an ongoing problem in the Church. While it is now possible to investigate and remove someone for CRIMINAL activity, activity that is immoral but not criminal continues to be covered up, ignored, excused. To the detriment of the souls of both those who commit such deeds and to the faithful.