Archbishop denies abuse cover-up

Published 12:48 pm Thursday, October 24, 2013

ST. PAUL — Archbishop John Nienstedt said in remarks published Wednesday that he regrets some parishioners and priests have lost confidence in him over new concerns about alleged clergy sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

But in an email response to Minnesota Public Radio’s questions, Nienstedt denied any abuse cover-up. He repeated the archdiocese’s assertion that there are no offending priests in active ministry. He also said he has not offered to resign.

“As head of this local church, I accept responsibility for addressing the issues that have been raised and am completely committed to finding the truth and fixing the problems that exist,” Nienstedt wrote. “My highest priorities are to ensure the safety of our children and to restore the trust of Catholics and our clergy. I will do everything in my power to do so.”

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MPR reported earlier that some who track weekly church collections are worried media reports of how church leaders handled warnings about at least two priests could cause parishioners to give less.

Also this week, a pastor in North St. Paul said it’s time for a “fresh start,” and he questioned whether Nienstedt should continue in his post. The Star Tribune reported that the Rev. Bill Deziel used his Sunday bulletin at the Church of St. Peter to address the way leaders handled allegations of misconduct.

It’s the first time Nienstedt has publicly answered questions since a whistleblower went public with claims that archdiocese leaders mishandled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. The archbishop has denied interview requests from MPR, The Associated Press and other local news organizations in recent weeks since the whistleblower, former canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger, went public.

The archbishop created a task force in late September to investigate issues associated with clergy sexual abuse, including the concerns Haselberger has raised. Those included how the archdiocese handled a priest now serving a prison sentence for sexually assaulting two boys and another priest whose laptop had pornographic images, including some possibly of minors.

Nienstedt wrote that the archdiocese’s policies and procedures “may not have been uniformly followed and that is a serious issue we have been addressing.”

The archbishop also defended the archdiocese’s refusal to release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse.

“There are no offending priests in active ministry in our archdiocese,” he wrote. “Anyone who is a known danger to a minor or vulnerable adult is immediately removed from ministry and investigated. There are, however, priests and other members of the clergy who have been falsely accused and exonerated. … Clergy members should be given the same rights as other citizens.”