Archbishop says he will stand aside amid abuse allegations, St. Paul police chief says the church not cooperating
ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s priest sex abuse scandal took two dramatic turns Tuesday: The St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic archbishop announced he will leave public ministry while he is investigated for allegedly improperly touching a boy and the St. Paul police chief said that his department has received little cooperation from the archdiocese during sex abuse investigations.
Archbishop John Nienstedt strongly denied touching a boy on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photo shoot after a confirmation ceremony. He said he was informed during the weekend of the claim that he touched a boy on the buttocks.
But while Nienstedt said he hoped for a quick and complete investigation into his case, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said the archdiocese has refused to cooperate in recent weeks as investigators looked into multiple reports of priest sex abuse.
Hours after Nienstedt revealed the allegation against him, Smith told reporters that the archdiocese says it is helping police in the sex cases, “but if you want to talk to somebody you have to open up your door.” The chief said Nienstedt’s staff has rejected all attempts to interview clergy about sex abuse allegations.
Tuesday’s developments add to controversy that has built in recent weeks surrounding allegations that many priests in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese and elsewhere in Minnesota have sexually abused people. They follow Nienstedt’s Sunday apology for not doing a good enough job investigating sex abuse claims.
On Tuesday, Nienstedt strongly denied that he has abused any child.
“I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me,” Nienstedt said in a statement. “I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false.”
The archbishop said that during such photo opportunities, he always keeps one hand on a staff, known as a crozier, and the other on the shoulder of a newly confirmed person or on a stole he wears. “I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact.”
The archbishop decided to temporarily leave public ministry during the investigation after consulting with the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. Long-time church official Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over public duties that Nienstedt otherwise would do.
Tuesday’s revelation builds on an expanding clergy sex abuse scandal.
Chief Smith accused the archdiocese of keeping police in the dark as his officers try to investigate numerous reports of clergy sex abuse.
“The St. Paul Police Department is putting many resources toward these cases ... unlimited resources,” Smith said.
However, the chief added, police have asked the archdiocese to talk to officials who understand the internal process of dealing with sex abuse charges.
“We have been told, ‘No,’” Smith said.
Archdiocese officials say they are cooperating with police.
Smith said a former top church official is an example of the refusal to talk to police. The Rev. Kevin McDonough, who had been a key role in internal sex abuse investigations, only allowed police to talk to his attorney, Smith said.
“Today the archdiocese has voiced its willingness for cooperation…” Smith said Tuesday. “I expect nothing less.”
To be able to solve the cases, he added, “you have to talk to people.”
The archdiocese and other church organizations face numerous lawsuits over sex abuse allegations.
Mike Finnegan of the Jeff Anderson and Associates law firm in St. Paul said that publicity surrounding the abuse scandal is prompting others to come forward.