NEW YORK – A Vatican investigation into alleged misconduct by former Saint Paul & Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt has cleared him of committing any canonical crime, but determined that certain “imprudent” actions warranted limitations placed on his ministerial ability.
“After reviewing all of the information gathered, the Dicasteries for Bishops and for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded that the available evidence did not support a finding that Archbishop Nienstedt had committed any canonical delict (crime),” Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul & Minneapolis announced Jan.5.
“Accordingly, the allegations against Archbishop Nienstedt were deemed unfounded,” said Hebda, who is a former official of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
However, Hebda said that while the investigation didn’t find any criminal conduct, “several instances of ‘imprudent’ actions by Nienstedt were brought to light.” These actions don’t warrant further investigation or action, Hebda said, but he added that they led Pope Francis to take the following administrative actions:
- Nienstedt may not exercise any public ministries in the Province of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which covers all of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
- Nienstedt cannot reside in the Province of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
- Nienstedt cannot exercise ministry in any way outside of his diocese of residence without the express authorization of the local bishop, and only after the Dicastery for Bishops has been informed.
Nienstedt, 76, led the archdiocese from 2008-2015. He resigned in 2015 under fire for his alleged mismanagement of clergy sexual abuse cases, of which the archdiocese was criminally charged for 10 days before his resignation.
Those charges were ultimately dropped in 2016 after Hebda, then in charge, publicly confessed that the archdiocese “failed” in the way it handled sexual-abuse allegations.
Specifically, the criminal investigation centered on the archdiocese’s failure to address the conduct of Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest of the archdiocese who in 2013 was sentenced to five years in prison for the sexual abuse of three minor boys.
In 2014, Nienstedt himself was investigated by a Minnesota law firm at the behest of the archdiocese to find out if he had inappropriate sexual conduct with adult priests, seminarians and other men.
After his resignation, a separate allegation of personal misconduct by Nienstedt surfaced, detailing an instance from 2005, where he allegedly asked two boys to undress in front of him in a hotel room at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, to purportedly dry their clothes from the rain.
Nienstedt has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
A Vatican investigation into Nienstedt opened after the promulgation of Vos estis lux mundi by Pope Francis in 2019, which established global standards for reporting and investigating clergy abuse. With the investigation’s conclusion and result, Nienstedt becomes the first American bishop to have ministerial limitations imposed as a result of a Vos estis investigation.
Born March 18, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan, Nienstedt was ordained a priest in 1974. After about two decades as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Pope John Paul II made Nienstedt an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 1996 – a position he held until 2001.
In 2001, John Paul II named him bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm. And in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI named Nienstedt the archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Months before Nienstedt’s tenure in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis came to an end, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in the face mounting sexual abuse lawsuits. The archdiocese ultimately reached a $210 million settlement with 450 victims in 2018.
On the conclusion of the Vos estis investigation, Hebda said he hopes it further heals the archdiocese.
“Please join me in praying that this resolution may bring further healing to our Archdiocese and to all those involved in these matters,” Hebda said.
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