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Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis denies he inappropriately touched a minor.
U.S. Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis concelebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome in March 2012. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that Archbishop John Nienstedt is stepping down from public ministry during the investigation of a claim that he inappropriately touched a minor four years ago.

From Catholic News Service:

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis is voluntarily stepping aside from all public ministry, effective immediately, while St. Paul police investigate an allegation that he inappropriately touched a male minor on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photography session following a confirmation ceremony.

In a Dec. 17 letter to Catholics of the archdiocese, Archbishop Nienstedt called the allegation "absolutely and entirely false."

"I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor and I have tried to the very best of my ability to serve this archdiocese and the church faithfully, with honor and due regard for the rights of all, even those with whom I disagree," he said.

"True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors," he said. "I have met victims and I know the lasting damage that such abuse causes."

Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche, in his role as a vicar general, will cover all of the archbishop's public duties while the matter is being investigated, according to a Dec. 17 statement from the archdiocese. Father Charles Lachowitzer continues in his position as a vicar general and moderator of the curia.

The allegation of the single incident was brought to the police by a mandated reporter within the church. Upon learning of the allegation a week ago, the archdiocese instructed the mandated reporter to make the matter known to the police.

Archbishop Nienstedt’s letter to his flock about the allegation and investigation appears in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit:

Please allow me to say that I normally stand for those photos with one hand on my crozier (staff) and the other either on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed or on my pallium (the short stole), which hangs from my chest. I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact.

I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false. …

I hope that the investigations can be thorough but quick. I already long to be back in public ministry—to be able to serve as the Lord has called me to serve.

I regret this will be my last column until the present investigations are complete. These days will give me the time to pray for you and the individual involved. I ask that you pray for me too.

Just two days ago, Archbishop Nienstedt apologized for the archdiocese’s handling of past allegations of abuse by clergy. “The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local Church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry,” Nienstedt said during a homily at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina. “I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel. You deserve better.”

He told reporters afterward that when he arrived at his post as archbishop seven years he was told that abuse investigations “had been taken care of.”

“Unfortunately I believed that,” he said. “And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did.”
 
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Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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