Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican diplomat who has accused Pope Francis of knowing about former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians, has issued a strong denial of a two-year-old report that he stopped an independent investigation into Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
In 2016, the National Catholic Reporter reported it had seen a memo by Father Dan Griffith – who was serving as the Delegate for Safe Environment for the archdiocese – which alleged that in 2014 Viganò tried to “quash” a Church investigation into alleged homosexual activity by Nienstedt.
The investigation had been entrusted by auxiliary bishops Lee A. Piché and Andrew Cozzens to the law firm Greene Espel.
In 2015, Francis accepted Nienstedt’s resignation along with that of Piché, after a Minnesota prosecutor announced the intention to bring criminal charges and a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese of grossly mishandling abuse cases.
In an Aug. 26, 2018, statement, Viganò said the accusation that he tried to close the investigation is “false.”
“Father Griffith was not present during my meeting at the Nunciature with the Archbishop and the two Auxiliaries on April 12, 2014, during which several affidavits containing accusations against Archbishop Nienstedt were handed to me,” the archbishop said in statement given to LifeSite, a conservative Canada-based Catholic website.
In his statement, Viganò said the law firm Green Espel had been part of the group Lawyers for All Families which had fought against Neinstedt’s efforts to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The former nuncio said one of the affidavits collected by the firm included an accusation Nienstedt had had an affair with a Swiss Guard during his service in the Vatican 20 years earlier.
(Nienstedt has denied all allegations of sexual impropriety, saying he is heterosexual and has always been faithful to his promise of chastity.)
“Private investigators from the Greene Espel firm had conducted an inquiry in an unbalanced and prosecutorial style, and now wanted immediately to extend their investigation to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, without first hearing Archbishop Nienstedt,” Viganò said.
“I suggested to the bishops who came to the Nunciature on April 12, 2014, that they tell the Greene Espel lawyers that it appeared to me appropriate that Archbishop Nienstedt be heard before taking this step – audiatur et altera pars – which they had not yet done. The bishops accepted my suggestion,” he continued.
Viganò said he received a letter signed by the two auxiliary bishops asserting he suggested the investigation should be stopped, and he asked Piché to remove that accusation from the archdiocesan computer system and archives.
“I insisted on this not only to protect my name, but also that of the Nunciature and the Holy Father who would be unnecessarily harmed by having a false statement used against the Church,” the archbishop said.
Viganò also claimed Jeffrey Lena – an American lawyer working for the Holy See – went to the Congregation for Bishops and found documents “proving that my conduct had been absolutely correct.”
The former nuncio also furnished LifeSite with two letters backing his claim.
The first was by Viganò, dated Nov. 13, 2014, and addressed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for Bishops, in which the archbishop denies he told the bishops that the Vatican would not allow an investigation into the allegations against Nienstedt.
The second was by Piché, dated Nov. 20, 2014, and also addressed to Ouellet.
In the letter Piché said he was clarifying Viganò’s comments during the April 12 meeting, “correct[ing] my interpretation of his instructions.”
Viganò’s background has come under increased scrutiny since he published his 11-page “Testimony” on Aug. 25. In the document, the archbishop not only accuses Francis of covering for McCarrick, but names several other high-ranking prelates as promoting a “homosexual current” in the Church.
It is not the first time the longtime Vatican official has been at the center of controversy in the Church.
Letters by the former papal diplomat were among those featured in the 2012 Vatileaks scandal, when Pope Benedict XVI’s butler leaked them to the press.
While working at the central administration office of the Vatican City State, Viganò made enemies by trying to clean up the process for awarding contracts. The leaked letters to the pontiff showed he had begged the pontiff not to transfer him to the Vatican embassy in Washington, a move most observers saw as a massive demotion.
While in Washington, he was at the center of the controversial 2015 meeting between Francis and Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.