Minnesota archbishop deposition on abuse made public

Published 9:28 am Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ST. PAUL — Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a recent sworn deposition that he hasn’t reprimanded or disciplined anyone for the way church officials have handled allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and he doesn’t think he should have, according to a recording of the deposition that was made public Tuesday.

During the interview, the head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said he does not believe any priests or church leaders mishandled allegations of abuse. He also said his staff told him there was nobody in ministry who had credible accusations of child abuse made against them, and that he believed another church official was responsible for notifying parish officials about problem priests.

Attorneys for victims of alleged sexual abuse by priests said the deposition, recorded April 2, shows an ongoing practice of denial and deflecting responsibility.

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Attorney Jeff Anderson said Nienstedt lied during the deposition, but when asked what he believed was a lie, he said there has been a “longstanding pattern of deceit and deception.”

In response to Anderson’s comments, Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told The Associated Press that Nienstedt “was under oath when he gave that deposition.”

Anderson released snippets of the recorded deposition and a full transcript Tuesday. The archdiocese also posted a transcript on its website, and released the full recording to show the “full context of what took place on April 2.”

The archdiocese said Nienstedt answered all questions and the deposition was being posted in full “as part of our renewed commitment to transparency.”

The deposition was taken as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s. The church had tried to block the deposition, saying it was not relevant to the case. But a Ramsey County judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals disagreed.

The deposition marked the first time since Nienstedt became archbishop six years ago that he has answered questions under oath about the way officials handled allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Anderson’s legal team also deposed the Rev. Kevin McDonough, a top church official who led the archdiocese’s child safety programs until last September. McDonough’s deposition has not yet been made public.

During the interview, which lasted more than four hours, Anderson asked Nienstedt about specific priests as well as about what Nienstedt knew and when he knew it.

Nienstedt said his staff had told him that there was no one in ministry who had credible accusations of abusing children levied against them, and he saw no reason to release the names of the accused priests until he had a “conversion” in 2013, after talking to other church officials.

Nienstedt also said during the interview that McDonough once told him some information should not be put in writing to keep it out of litigation, and he admitted that he followed that advice on less than a dozen occasions.

He also said that the archdiocese provides information to police when police ask for it, or when the archdiocese believes an accusation is credible.

The deposition ended with a heated exchange between attorneys, as counsel for the archdiocese accused Anderson of creating sound bites by suggesting the archdiocese is controlling and concealing information, instead of turning the files over to authorities.

Nienstedt said a consulting firm is currently reviewing priest files and he’ll “do what we have to” when the review is complete.

Anderson said the archdiocese has turned over 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents to his legal team, and they have in turn given it all to police.