Archbishop Nienstedt Did Nothing Wrong; So Where Is the Media Now? Where Are YOU?

Warning:  This. Makes. Me. Cranky.

Look, I’m as concerned as the next person about the safety of children.  I believe sexual perpetrators should be prosecuted and imprisoned.  I think that Church leadership should take strong measures to ensure that priests who betray their sacred trust are removed from ministry.

The media can play an important role in safeguarding the public trust, when Church and community leaders fail to do their job.

What has happened in the Twin Cities, though, goes far beyond “safeguarding” and slides, instead, into manipulation and sensationalism and character assassination.  In one report after another, Archbishop John Nienstedt has been accused of obstruction of justice in a case involving alleged sexual misconduct committed by Father Jonathan Shelley, who remains on a leave of absence while the investigation continues.

The press coverage was so incriminating that the St. Paul Police Department took the unusual step of scheduling a press conference to contradict a KSTP report, and to assure that Archbishop Nienstedt was not under investigation, and was not guilty of shielding a guilty priest.  According to Howie Padilla, a police spokesperson, the report which aired November 12 was “inaccurate.”  Catholic News Live explained:

St. Paul Police took the unusual step of calling a press conference to rebut information contained in a KSTP media report that falsely claimed Archbishop John Nienstedt and Father Peter Laird are the focus of a criminal investigation for obstruction of justice in a case involving alleged sexual misconduct committed by Father Jonathan Shelley.

Howie Padilla, a police spokesman, called the report, which aired Nov. 12, “inaccurate.”

“As we stand here today, they’re not being investigated,” he said.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contacted the station’s executive producer before the report aired to let them know the report was inaccurate, but the station opted to air it anyway.

The archdiocese provided the following information to the station before the report aired.

“The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is aware that the St. Paul Police have reopened their investigation into the Fr. Jon Shelley case,” the statement said.  “We will cooperate fully, as we did in the police’s previous 7-month investigation that found no evidence of child pornographic material. We take very seriously matters of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.  We encourage anyone who has been a victim of such sexual abuse to report it to police and to the Archdiocese.

“Any inference or suggestion that the Archdiocese withheld evidence or obstructed justice simply is inaccurate.”

*     *     *      *     *

So now, the question I have for the media outlets and the individuals who have mistakenly excoriated their devoted archbishop is:

WHERE ARE YOU NOW?  Where are the apologies and retractions? 

*     *     *     *

I’m not sure where the media distortion started.  Was it a misleading report from local TV station KSTP which generated the scandal?  An article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune which painted Archbishop John Nienstedt with the broad brush of “protector of the guilty”?

In any case, the media (in Minneapolis-St. Paul and then, across the nation) posted incendiary articles accusing Archbishop Nienstedt of willfully failing to act to implement tough policies to protect the young, as mandated by the USCCB and local law enforcement.  Left-leaning activist groups which exist to lobby for tired positions in defense of same-sex marriage and women priests used this opportunity to seek the resignation of their faithful, conservative archbishop.  Hundreds of picketers and protestors marched in front of the cathedral and the archdiocesan offices.  Even donors fell prey to the misguided reporting, threatening to withhold support for archdiocesan projects until new leadership was in place.

The negative publicity was far-reaching, with the result that public sentiment focused on removing their spiritual leader from his post.  Just a few examples of the assault against the Twin Cities’ archbishop:

  • On October 14 Beth Hawkins, writing for the Minneapolis Post, asked, “Could Archbishop Nienstedt face charges or lose his job?”
  • On October 23, the Star-Tribune reported that Father Bill Deziel, pastor of the 6,000-member Church of St. Peter, used his church’s Sunday bulletin to call for a “do-over” of archdiocesan leadership. The Star-Tribune quoted Father Deziel:

“When things get this bad,” Deziel wrote to his parishioners, “sometimes a fresh start is needed for all involved.” Such a change, he said, “could get us moving again with all that Christ calls us to do.”

KSTPquoted Father Deziel:

“These accounts of priest abuse and misconduct are disturbing, yet even more disturbing to many of the faithful is the apparent lack of good judgment and common sense on the part of archdiocesan leaders to deal with offending priests.”

  • On the same date, October 23, KSTP reported on others whose dissatisfaction has reached the boiling point:

 Local attorney Thomas Lyons says he’s a member of the Church of St. Peter. He says dissatisfaction with church response has boiled over, “At some point the rage rises to the level that you have to express that this is not acceptable. I don’t know who is advising the bishop!”

 Lyons says Archbishop Nienstedt does not meet the new Pope Francis’ high standards, “Corruption, worldliness, arrogance, vanity and pride, and that’s all put together in Nienstedt. He should resign for the purpose of allowing the Pope, who has this high standard, to appoint someone for that position.”

Father Mike Tegeder from St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis says Nienstedt has demonstrated a failure of leadership, “It’s really disappointing and scandalous when the Archbishop drops the ball because the rest of us are doing the very best we can.” 

Tegeder calls for Archbishop Nienstedt to speak publicly about the on-going scandal and what the church intends to do to make changes and begin healing, “I’m open to an explanation but it has to come from the archbishop, and it has to come from him in an open way. It can’t be a press release, it can’t be a newspaper article in ‘The Catholic Spirit,’ his paper, he has to stand before us.”

  • On October 24, the Minnesota-based radical action group Catholic Coalition for Church Reform published a statement demanding that Archbishop Nienstedt step down from the leadership role in the local church.  “We are doing this,” they said, “because we do not see how the Archdiocese can be united in its mission under his leadership.”  The group also sent a letter to the U.S. Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, asking him to seek recommendations for a leader from all the people of the Archdiocese–ordained and lay, as well as men and women religious. “People are more likely,” they said, “to trust a leader in whose selection they have had a voice.”
  • On October 29, Minnesota Public Radio reported that a St. Paul, MN pastor, Father Stephen O’Gara of Church of the Assumption, had called for the archbishop’s resignation.  Father O’Gara said in a homily,

“He needs to stand before us and explain himself.  Only then will we have the respect called to his office.  It’s about arrogance, and we all fall victim to arrogance in some degree or in some place in our lives.  But this is more.  This is not some small matter.  This is a big deal.  It’s the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I’m embarrassed to be Catholic.”

  • On November 8, Fr. Michael Tegeder, a dissident priest who has frequently clashed with the archbishop on homosexuality and other issues, wrote a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune requesting that Archbishop Nienstedt “prayerfully consider stepping down from his office.”  Calling the archbishop’s support for the marriage amendment a “misguided crusade,” he suggested that the archbishop’s resignation would be “healing for our state” and “would show some magnanimity on [Nienstedt’s] part.”
  • On November 13, the left-wing group People in the Pews published a call for Archbishop Nienstedt’s resignation.  Their letter read, in part,

We believe that now is the time for healing, which begins with your resignation. Quite simply, the trust and confidence you once enjoyed are gone and will not return. You can no longer lead because we can no longer follow. We believe our energies and financial resources can no longer be spent defending the indefensible.

And major donors, too, have accepted at face value the KSTP report.  According to the Free Republic, one of those donors, James R. Frey, has withdrawn his financial support until the archdiocese has new leadership.  Frey is president and CEO of the Frey Foundation of Minnesota, which gives money to dozens of nonprofit and Catholic-related organizations that serve the poor.

Frey and his wife, according to the Free Republic, have personally given to previous archdiocesan appeals and helped pay down debt at the Cathedral of St. Paul.  But that has changed:  “I don’t know how, in the present circumstances, how the archbishop will be able to regain the trust of the contributors,” Frey said. “I don’t know how that can continue.”

*     *     *     *

But not everyone sees the events in a negative light.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights actually thanked Archbishop Nienstedt for his excellent handling of the abuse crisis in his archdiocese.  The Catholic League, in a September 24 release, said:

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced it was putting a priest on leave after a woman said he inappropriately touched her. The priest denies the accusation; the allegation was reported to the police. Yesterday, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) ran a story on a previous case: it said the archdiocese knew of the misconduct of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer before he abused two boys in 2010.

 In early June 2012, the mother of the abused boys told a priest about the molestation. He urged her to call the police. On June 14, she provided details and was told to report this to the archdiocese. On June 19, she met with officials and one of the boys was questioned. On June 20, the police were contacted; the authorities were told that the priest would be relieved of his duties on June 21. He was. In September, the Ramsey County Attorney commended the archdiocese saying, “They did the right thing.”

 Some critics are saying the archdiocese should have dealt with Wehmeyer before the abuse occurred. In 2004, three years after being ordained, Wehmeyer made sexually suggestive remarks to two men, 19 and 20, but they never complained. The archdiocese found out anyway, and sent the priest to St. Luke Institute for counseling. Two years later, he was found cruising in an area known for gay sex; no law was violated. In 2009, he was arrested for drunk driving. Fr. Kevin McDonough, a former vicar general, said last week that “[N]othing, nothing, nothing in this man’s behavior known to us would have convinced any reasonable person that he was likely to harm kids.”

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis responded on its own webpage, defending its handling of the cases in question.  Following is the full text of the archdiocesan statement.

A recent article in the StarTribune called into question the archdiocese’s cooperation in the summer of 2012 with St. Paul Police in the Curtis Wehmeyer case.  These allegations are both unfortunate and unfounded, as we fully cooperated with the police investigation that ultimately resulted in Wehmeyer’s current prison sentence.

On September 21, 2012, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi was quoted on MPR saying that the archdiocese “…did the right thing. As soon as they got the complaint from the boys’ mother, they immediately called the police. Then they took immediate action and removed him from his position at the parish. That was the right thing, and we appreciate that in law enforcement.”

On September 24, 2013, Howie Padilla of the St. Paul Police was quoted in the Pioneer Press saying, “ … the archdiocese was helpful in the initial case against Wehmeyer.”

These quotes reaffirm that the archdiocese was cooperative in this case.

We continue to encourage anyone who suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult within Church ministry—or any setting including the home or school—to first contact law enforcement. Any act of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult is reprehensible and morally repugnant and we will not tolerate it.

Our first priority is to create and maintain safe environments where the Gospel of Jesus Christ can flourish. This means creating an environment for and implementing productive steps to promote a healthy clergy.

We deeply regret the pain caused by sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and we remain committed to protecting children and vulnerable adults, and promoting healing for victims. Anyone having knowledge of sexual abuse should call the proper authorities and is encouraged to notify the archdiocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator at 651-291-4497.

Can you see anything wrong with this handling of the case in question?  Can you?

Neither can I.


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  • Sarx Discuss

    Kathy, I respect your attempt to protect Archbishop Nienstedt and admire the thoroughness of your article. However, here Archbishop Nienstedt and his aides allowed gay priests to flout their vows and the Archbishop’s authority until disaster occurred.

    Let’s look at two of the cases, those relating to Frs. Wehmeyer and Shelley.

    First, Fr. Wehmeyer was caught soliciting adult men in a bookstore. Then, he was caught in a park cruising for gay men. It was not prosecuted as a crime but the police informed the archdiocese. Archbishop Nienstedt covered for Fr. Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer was subsequently caught molesting a 12 and a 14 year old boy.

    Fr. Shelley’s computer had images of young but post-pubescent men. It was apparently a “borderline” question whether the images constituted child pornography as the ages of the subjects appeared around 18. This potentially child porn but it is definitely gay porn. When the diocese asked Fr. Shelley for his computers, he smashed them with a hammer. He had earlier shared his residence with an 18 year old male parishioner. The diocese spent a year debating whether the images were illegal when clearly they were something a priest should not be possessing regardless of criminality. Ultimately, it was not possible to prosecute him because of the age and condition of the evidence.

    In both cases, the archdiocese protected priests who may not have committed crimes but were certainly violating their priestly vows. In Shelley’s case, they tolerated his obstruction of an investigation that might have revealed underage porn. In the name of political correctness, they protected two gay priests. One later was discovered a molester of young boys; the other had gay porn that involved very young men, but it was not provable if they constituted illegal child pornography.

    • Phil Steinacker

      If you are going to go on record publicly (and the Internet is public if anything is) then you have a moral obligation to put your true identity at stake along with the reputation you are maligning.

      You are judging the archbishop by sniping incognito from behind a rock – figuratively. By your own lights, then, I shall respond however late.

      You are a gutless coward. You list items of indictment here which may or may not be true. By failing to put your reputation at stake along with your accusations I dismiss them entirely because your actions are not those of a man of integrity – or perhaps you are a woman.

      You implicitly suggest your knowledge is greater than that of the police who have yet to have cause to investigate the archbishop.

      You are a loathsome, ignorant, hate-filled anti-Catholic bigot seeking to attack and undermine legitimate ecclesial authority because good bishops like this one mount obstacles to your agenda to transform the Church into your own image and likeness; aka your agenda.

      You disgust me.

      • Sarx Discuss

        Rage on, li’l rager.

  • Kathy DiNovis Vestermark

    the only apologies and retractions that you will hear these days are from insincere politicians who wish to get reelected at any cost…forget about it from the media!

  • Bill

    With the police publicly correcting that kind of slander and libel the Archdiocese has a case for a lawsuit that’s winnable. It’s time the secular media is held accountable and prosecuted for their malicious smear tactics.

    • moseynon

      I doubt that a case for slander or libel could be won. First, the case concerns a news organization reporting on a well-known public figure. Second, attorneys would have to prove that the news organizations intentionally made false claims.

      In the press conference, the police spokesman said that Archbishop Nienstedt was not the focus of its investigation, although he might be investigated in the future since the investigation is wide-ranging. The spokesman stated police department policy of refusing to give step-by-step details of its investigation. However, at this time, Archbishop Nienstedt was not being investigated.

      I do not doubt there are people in the archdiocese who wish misfortune on the archbishop. He has made changes which a fair number of Catholics are not happy about. There are also a fair number of Catholics who are very pleased with the changes instituted by the archbishop. Nonetheless, I don’t doubt that some Catholics are planting stories with the news media which reflect badly on Nienstedt. That news organizations run with it is not surprising. They love milking a possible scandal for all its worth.

  • Tom

    Well, this goes for just about anybody. As they say, when you’re accused, it’s a front page headline. When you’re acquitted it’s a sidebar on page 12.

  • kenofken

    The fact that you can’t see anything wrong with the handling of this case is the reason the Church has the moral credibility of Scientology these days.

    Let’s see, we have a situation in which archdiocese officials knew for YEARS about the grotesquely inappropriate and predatory behavior of a priest and yet did nothing to alert parishioners or employees about the danger, and did nothing substantial at all to monitor his behavior or limit his contact with potential victims. They shipped him off for treatment, which has a long, nearly perfect history of not working.

    This priest had a consistent pattern of propositioning young men who, while technically adult, were barely so and less than half his age. They knew he had an interest in teen males and also that he had problems maintaining boundaries with minors. Oh yeah, and he like to hold private confabs with them in a camper he kept permanently set up (in an urban area). Nothing wrong about that….

    So after 8 years or so of screaming 140 decibel alarm bells about this priest, which they tuned out with earplugs, they cooperated with police AFTER kids were victimized and their hand was forced by circumstances. Well Hallelujah for that!

    If that’s what passes for “doing the right thing”, The Curt Wehmeyers and victim’s lawyers of the world will both have good hunting for years to come.

    • SteveP

      Come on! Archbishop Nienstedt did exactly what your cult demands (through protest, violent and non-violent, as well as the courts): male-on-male faux-copulatory desire is not to be interrogated. Little wonder you worship gods who do not judge — you reserve that for yourself.

      • Revert

        This is what happens when an institution or a race becomes liberal: they actually become the stereotype that their harshest critics slander them with. Have you been to a south side chicago Irish parade lately? Fortunately for us though the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Christ himself. And no liberalism or communism-even by some on the inside-will ever prevail against Her.

        And if the liberal media dogs hate the archbishop that much he must be one holy man! Plus he needs our prayers!

  • JoFro

    Sue for libel!

    I mean, cmon, if you need the police to actually organise a press conference to refute claims made by a TV station and the Church just sits back and does nothing, you are asking to be attacked!

    For the sake of everyone in this diocese, sue the station and take them to the cleaners!

  • richard_fossey

    Thanks for this piece. And contrast the unfair treatment of Bishop Nienstedt with the media coverage of Harvey Milk, whose biographer described as a sexual predator and who has been honored with a postage stamp!
    Richard Fossey

  • Media bias? This is the beginning of the persecution. The truth no longer matters. Once the moral code of a people has been deliberately cast aside, especially by the leaders, all evil is permitted.
    The nasty email you sent to a former girl friend 15 years a? Don’t be suprised if soemone from the government or NSA slaps a copy of it on your desk and accuses you of assault?
    As our freedoms dimish exponentially as the central government consolidates power, there is no end to what can happen.
    This administration governs by whim – not by the Constitution. It could not do so without the complicit and slavish cooperation of the press. The state tolerates no competition, like religious beliefs. Once the press became a cheerleader for government and turned its collective back on the American people it lost its reason for existence, namely telling the truth..

  • CLQ

    What I found telling about KSTP is the fact that after the police department made the statement, they still defended their story. They said that their source said that the police were just staying that because he was going to be charged as part of a larger investigation. They did not have the dignity to even admit they were wrong. This has happened before to this station so they are known for false reporting. Too bad so many people still watch them.

    • moseynon

      Yes, KSTP non-repentance and doubling-down on their accusations, despite the police press conference, was pretty slimy. This will be clear to any anyone who watches the unedited press conference and then watch KSTP’s news broadcast about it, KSTP’s defense of itself seemed almost gleeful.

  • cestusdei

    When will the media make the obvious connection between homosexuality and child abuse?

    • kenofken

      When they lose their ability to reason and become ignorant bigots.

  • Howard

    The Archbishop has acknowledged that “mistakes have been made”. Please ponder three examples:

    1. The Archdiocese makes extra payments to priests removed from duty because of child rape. One, Father Robert Kapoun, lives a luxurious and unmonitored life of retired leisure funded by hardworking Catholic families.

    2. The Archbishop knew about the sexually deviant behavior of Father Curtis Wehmeyer, but allowed him to remain hidden in a parish where he eventually raped children. The Archdiocese had a chance to prevent the problem, and did not. That the Archdiocese helped the police prosecute Father Curtis is cold comfort in light of its failure to prevent wrongdoing in the first place.

    3. The Archbishop knew of the child abuse perpetrated by Father Clarence Vavra but allowed him to remain hidden in New Prague.

    Kathy, I’m sure you are a person of good spirit. But in light of the Archbishop’s admitted “mistakes”, your statement that he did nothing wrong seems to reveal a blind spot. Media excesses may exist, but the admitted facts are profoundly disturbing.

  • Redmond Jennings

    This comments section explains exactly why the Church has conducted a decades long global campaign of silence and abetting of child sexual abuse.

  • I sincerely hope you use your sense of indignation to scream from the rooftops to fight for the resignation of the Archbishop and return humility and honor to our diocese!

  • fallen

    Anyone check the facts? Is the Catholic Church the worst offender or just the target for the lawyers to gain more wealth. Shocking how naive you are all and so informed as well. Let me guess, you all voted for Obama and Mark Dayton too? The same irrational inconsistent thinking. All together now….put your head in the sand deeper this time.

  • janiceclaire

    We (the Church) must be doing something very right to be coming under so much attack. Rejoice, your Master, was also persecuted for speaking the truth!

  • Magdalena

    This article is unbelievable to me. I am a conservative, traditional Catholic and truly the Church does not need leaders like the Archbishop. The things the Archbishop has ADMITTED to are shocking. This article of course doesn’t discuss his many horrifying “oversights.”

    The laity and priests quoted as calling for his resignation are 100% correct. And as someone who loves and respects the holy priesthood, it grieves me to say that.