Archdiocese: Nienstedt will have no further ministry in Minnesota
In a lengthy letter posted Friday evening on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda sought to clarify to the faithful that former Archbishop John Nienstedt will not be free to exercise ministry in Minnesota until allegations against him are resolved.
I remain troubled by the failure to bring closure to the 2014 investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct with adult males leveled against my predecessor, Hebda wrote.
For the first time, Hebda revealed details of some of those allegations, including one that in 2005, Nienstedt, who was then bishop of the New Ulm diocese, invited two unaccompanied minors to his hotel room in Germany, where the World Youth Day event was underway.
After inviting the minors to get out of the rain and wet clothing, it is alleged that he then proceeded to undress in front of them and invited them to do the same.
Archbishop Nienstedt denies this ever happened, Hebda continued. My opinion is this allegation needs to be fully addressed before a definitive resolution of Archbishop Nienstedts suitability for ministry can be made.
Nienstedt could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hebda said the archdiocese was informed of the allegation in 2016 by Ramsey County. He said he has sent all information about the alleged incident from the county to the Nuncio, the popes ambassador to the United States.
I have been asked repeatedly whether there are any restrictions on Archbishop Nienstedts ministry, Hebda wrote. My answer has always been that although I do not know of any, I am the wrong person to ask: Bishops report to the Holy Father, not to each other. I can, however, exercise some control over the types of public ministry permitted in this Archdiocese.
He said the archdioceses Ministerial Review Board recently urged him to clarify to the public that Nienstedt will have no future role in Minnesota. There was no indication that Nienstedt, who most recently was reported to be in California, was seeking to return to Minnesota.
As is true in similar cases involving our priests and deacons, this is not intended to convey an indication or presumption of guilt, he wrote. While this may cause some pain, my hope is that this decision prompts further action by those with authority over Archbishop Nienstedt to resolve this question.
He said he will push hard for a Vatican investigation and resolution of the Nienstedt situation.
I also want to share a few thoughts regarding bishop accountability, he wrote. This was a major topic at the recent meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As mentioned before, I strongly favor the creation of a lay-led mechanism for investigating and assessing any allegations made against me or any other bishop. It is clear to me that expanding meaningful lay involvement is essential for us to accomplish cultural change and put in place a credible and lasting process. In order to fully address bishop accountability, the Church needs a national or regional board empowered to act, much as our well-respected Ministerial Review Board has been empowered to address allegations involving our priests and deacons. The Church cannot fulfill its mission without public trust.
In addition, Hebda announced that he will create a new staff position to meet with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, and that those survivors are released from any confidentiality agreements they may have signed with the archdiocese before it declared bankruptcy in 2015 because of huge potential costs related to clergy sexual abuse.
He also reiterated his pledge to meet with any survivors, saying that he will leave open all Friday afternoons in February, March and April for that purpose.
Many of you have reminded me that our Church needs to face todays challenges with more direct action, Hebda wrote in the letter. Changes must be made that will prevent regression to old ways. I am taking additional steps in this Archdiocese to change the culture that fostered the clergy abuse crisis.
Karen Zamora 612-673-4647 Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora