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Report: Former Twin Cities archbishop tried to limit probe into sexual misconduct

Report: Former Twin Cities archbishop tried to limit probe into sexual misconduct
Former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt
Former St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt AP

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The former archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Rev. John Nienstedt, interfered with an investigation by an outside law firm into allegations of sexual misconduct with other men, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday.

While Nienstedt authorized the investigation in the hope of clearing his name, the results threatened to ruin it. Several of his top advisers gathered privately in April 2014, and read sworn statements gathered by the lawyers that accused Nienstedt of inappropriate behavior, including sexual advances toward other priests. Each adviser agreed he should resign.

A few days later, Auxiliary Bishops Lee Piche and Andrew Cozzens traveled to Washington to tell the papal ambassador; MPR was unable to learn what transpired there. But soon after the bishops returned home, the investigation as originally conceived ended, with Piche limiting the probe to allegations of crimes and grave sins. A new law firm eventually took over.

The Vatican announced Nienstedt’s and Piche’s resignations Monday. They stepped down amid an intensifying scandal over how the archdiocese handled cases of clerical sexual misconduct.

The archdiocese sought bankruptcy protection in January as abuse claims rose, and prosecutors filed criminal child-endangerment charges against the archdiocese earlier this month for allegedly turning a blind eye to Curtis Wehmeyer, a now-imprisoned former priest convicted of molesting two boys.

In a statement Friday to The Associated Press, Cozzens said Nienstedt has resigned and the archdiocese is moving forward.

“Concerning the investigation, we are limited in what we can say, similar to any other personnel matter,” Cozzens said.

MPR said its details of how Nienstedt tried to limit the investigation came from interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the inquiry, including four people who provided affidavits to investigators, current and former archdiocese officials and others who spoke with the investigators.

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MPR could not reach Nienstedt for comment on the new allegations. In a 2014 interview, Nienstedt said, “I’ve done nothing criminally wrong ever, and nothing immoral” and that he hadn’t interfered with the investigation.

But attorneys at the Greene Espel law firm – the initial firm on the Nienstedt investigation – disputed the archbishop’s claim of noninterference as well as a recent similar statement from Piche.

“We strongly disagree with those statements. Greene Espel’s investigation and work will not be mischaracterized without a response by us,” attorneys Matt Forsgren and David Wallace-Jackson told MPR.

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