Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Allegations case Minnesota archbishop to remove himself from ministry

Brian Rowe
National Catholic Reporter
December 17, 2013

The archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis has voluntarily removed himself from public ministry while local authorities investigate an accusation against him of inappropriate touching four years ago.

The Twin Cities archdiocese learned last week of an allegation that Archbishop John Nienstedt touched a young man's buttocks in 2009 during a group photo session following an area confirmation ceremony. The archdiocese said it directed the mandated reporter who first learned of the alleged incident to report it to St. Paul police.

Upon consulting with Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Nienstedt decided to step down from public ministry effective immediately while the investigation is ongoing, according to the archdiocese. Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, the vicar general, will take the archbishop's place in public duties.

Spokesman Jim Accurso said the archdiocese could not comment further as the investigation is pending.

Addressing the incident in what he described as a "difficult letter for me to write to you," Nienstedt denied any wrongdoing.

"I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false," he wrote.

"I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor and I have tried to the very best of my ability to serve this Archdiocese and the church faithfully, with honor and due regard for the rights of all, even those with whom I disagree," he wrote in the letter.

Nienstedt explained in the letter his typical procedure for photo shoots like the one in question, saying he normally stands with one hand on his crozier, or staff, and the other on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed or on his pallium.

"I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact," he wrote.

While the investigation plays out, Nienstedt said he will use the time to pray for Twin Cities Catholics and the accuser and asked for Catholics to pray for him.

The archdiocese called the steps it has taken, including Nienstedt's removal from public ministry, as moves that "further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established."

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