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Anti-gay Catholic bishop steps aside under allegations of sexual abuse

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt, who in 2010 advised a parishioner to reject her gay son or suffer eternal damnation, has stepped down from public ministry due to allegations that he inappropriately touched a young boy on the buttocks during a photo session a year earlier.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The announcement is the latest blow to an archdiocese that has faced intense scrutiny since a former employee went public with claims that church leaders mishandled sexual abuse allegations.

In a letter posted on the archdiocese’s website, Nienstedt said he is accused of touching the boy during a photo session following a confirmation ceremony in 2009. Confirmation is a Roman Catholic sacrament in which a person becomes a full adult in the eyes of the church.

Nienstedt said he learned of the accusation over the weekend and doesn’t know who is making the claim.

“I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allega tion is absolutely and entirely false,” Nienstedt wrote. “I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor.”

Nienstedt had already been facing public calls for his resignation. In recent months, police have launched investigations into several abuse claims and Nienstedt’s top deputy stepped down.

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On Sunday, Nienstedt went before two services at a suburban Minneapolis church to apologize for the mess, telling parishioners: “I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better.”

Nienstedt was a polarizing figure in Minnesota even before the clergy abuse scandal flared. Some of the archdiocese’s 825,000 Catholics were angered in 2010 after he mailed out a DVD against gay marriage, and angered again in 2012 after the church spent $650,000 in a failed effort to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.

Nienstedt referenced critics in his letter Tuesday, saying he has “taken strong stands on the moral teachin gs of the Church and been criticized for it.” He added: “I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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