St. Paul, Minn., Dec 17, 2013 / 07:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop John Nienstedt has temporarily stepped down and is cooperating in a police investigation involving a claim that he inappropriately touched a young man during a group photo four years ago.
In a Dec. 17 letter, the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archbishop denied the charge made by a male youth claiming that his buttocks were inappropriately touched after a 2009 confirmation ceremony in the archdiocese.
“True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors,” the archbishop wrote. “I have met victims and I know the lasting damage that such abuse causes.”
He stated that his normal practice is to stand for group 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,” he said.
The archbishop said he does not know the identity of the accuser, but maintained that “this allegation is 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.
“I have taken strong stands on the moral teachings of the Church and been criticized for it. I would not have done so if I did not believe those teachings and was personally bound to living up to them in practice.”
Archbishop Nienstedt voiced his hope that the investigations “be thorough but quick” and asked for prayers. Bishop Lee Piché, an auxiliary of the St. Paul archdiocese, will stand in and cover the archbishop's tasks in the interim.
Archbishop Nienstedt has voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry during the investigation, which includes him not participating in the solemnities of Christmas and the Mother of God.
The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis also released a Dec. 17 statement acknowledging the allegation and expressing a willingness to “cooperate fully” with local police.
The archdiocese reiterated its commitment to ensuring safe environments for young people, as well as the importance of due process for everyone involved.
“The steps taken in response to the allegation against the archbishop demonstrate and reaffirm the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure,” the statement read.
“These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established. This is the position of the archdiocese and the archbishop himself.”
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the individual involved and the archbishop as justice is pursued and all may move forward on a path toward healing.”