• Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Vatican concludes former Minnesota archbishop acted imprudently but committed no crimes


Jan 5, 2024


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A lengthy Vatican investigation into misconduct allegations against Archbishop John Nienstedt, the former leader of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, concluded that he took “imprudent” actions but did not violate church law, the archdiocese announced Friday.

However, the archdiocese also said Nienstedt remains barred from public ministry following the investigation.


Nienstedt was one of the first U.S. bishops known to have been forced from office for botching sex abuse investigations. He stepped down in 2015 after Minnesota prosecutors charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect children from harm by a pedophile priest who was later convicted of molesting two boys. Nienstedt was later accused of his own inappropriate sexual behavior involving adult males and minors.

His successor, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, in 2016 forwarded allegations to the Vatican that Nienstedt invited two minors to a hotel room in 2005 during a youth rally in Germany to change out of wet clothes, and that he then proceeded to undress in front of them and invited them to do the same. Nienstedt was the bishop of New Ulm, Minnesota, at the time.

Minneapolis Archbishop

Vatican investigation finds archbishops conduct to be ill-advised, but not criminal in nature.

Nienstedt has consistently denied all misconduct allegations leveled against him, insisting that he has remained celibate, and said that he welcomed the investigation. But Hebda in 2018 barred Nienstedt from celebrating Mass and other public ministry in the St. Paul-based archdiocese until the allegations were resolved.

On Friday, Hebda said in a statement that he was recently informed that the investigation was complete — the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for enforcing sexual morality, concluded that available evidence doesn’t support violations of church law, so any such allegations against him were “unfounded.”

However, Hebda said, “it was communicated to me that several instances of ‘imprudent’ actions were brought to light,” and while none were deemed to warrant “any further investigation or penal sanctions,” Pope Francis decided that three administrative actions against Nienstedt were justified.

As a result, Nienstedt can’t exercise any public ministry in the Province of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which covers Minnesota and the Dakotas. He can’t live in the province. And he can’t exercise any ministry elsewhere without the approval of the local bishop — and only after the Vatican has been notified.

Nienstedt, who remains an archbishop, is believed to be living in Michigan, Tom Halden, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement. Nienstedt has kept a low public profile after coming under fire in 2016 when word got out that he was filling in at a Michigan parish. Nienstedt did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the findings and the actions against him.

Hebda’s statement did not say what Nienstedt’s “imprudent” actions were. The spokesman said he couldn’t provide details, and Vatican press officials did not immediately respond to emails seeking elaboration.

Nienstedt said in a statement that he has “fully cooperated” with all investigations into allegations against him and answered every question honestly and to the best of his recollection. He said he has asked the Holy See to clarify the “imprudent” actions he allegedly committed.

“I will heed the direction given to me by the Holy Father, which I have been following for the past seven years,” Nienstedt said. “I am retired now so my ministry will continue to be limited. I am sorry for any pain experienced by anyone because of the allegations against me, and ask for your prayers for their healing.”

Hebda’s statement also did not say why it took the Vatican so long to conclude its investigation. But Hebda said a church law that Francis issued in 2019 saying that sexual abuse and and coverup allegations against bishops and priests should be reported and investigated “created a path forward for a resolution of the Archbishop Nienstedt matter.”

“Please join me in praying that this resolution may bring further healing to our Archdiocese and to all those involved in these matters,” Hebda concluded.


SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that the investigation left more questions than answers. The group said the restrictions on Nienstedt show that the church is reluctant to associate itself with him, but that it failed to adequately address his alleged misconduct.

“Ignoring Nienstedt’s behavior only serves to condone it and encourages a culture of corruption within the church, where clergy and staff members may turn a blind eye, knowing that the consequences will be minimal if they are caught,” SNAP said.


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