A reader from Mpls/St. Paul writes:

Please keep Archbishop Nienstedt and the Catholic Church in Minnesota in your prayers. Today Archbishop Nienstedt was accused of inappropriately touching a teenaged boy during a confirmation group photo in 2009. I have met and spoken with Archbishop Nienstedt on several occasions and I think the accusation is bogus and am increasingly wondering if there is a smear campaign going on against the Catholic Church up here in Minnesota. Is there anything we lay Catholics up here can do to defend the Church and our shepherd in these troubled times?

When things like this happen, I am always reminded of Tom Kreitzberg’s little analytic for how we deal with tales and accusations against people:

It may well be that the whole thing is bogus.  Clearly the presumption of  the law, if not the media, is that this is the case.  However, as somebody who does not know the people involved in this from Adam, I think the smart money is not on “defending” the Archbishop but on allowing the facts of the case to come to light and the chips fall where they may.  No small part of the way we got to where we are with everybody from Maciel to Corapi was by starting with the assumption that it was our job to defend the accused instead of investigate the facts, all under the serene assurance that only conceivable explanation was that the accusers were part of a smear campaign.  An innocent man has nothing to fear from the truth.  So pray for the truth to be revealed and for the Church to be healed.

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  • sbark

    I agree with your take. I will say that it would take incredible stupidity from the Archbishop for the specific allegation to be true. By 2009 these types of allegations are likely to be taken seriously instead of brushed under a rug. Engaging in that behavior while knowingly being photographed would likely hard evidence of the act. Then again they say that sin makes us stupid.

    • Dan C

      This archbishop has had management issues around sex abuse This incident is in a public place and fits no pattern of typical abuse. This incident is not likely founded.

      • chezami

        I’m inclined to agree and think he will be exonerated.

        • IRVCath

          But you well know that that’s not how he’ll be tried in the media. It will be for his other sins, real or imagined.

          Dan, mismanagement of clergy abuse cases is hardly a conservative preserve. Take, for example, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. There’s a reason school places have not increased despite the number of Mass going Catholics increasing. Or here in Orange. Father had to reassure the congregation last Sunday that the parish appeal money would not be going to the diocese, because otherwise people wouldn’t open their wallets, because of the last bishop, who is not exactly a fan of the conservative crowd. This isn’t a conservative or liberal problem.

  • Scott

    I’m from Minnesota. This is payback by the radical homosexuals for the Archbishop’s campaign against same sex “marriage” in Minnesota. And you can take that to the bank.

    • Dan C

      Explain how this child’s allegation is payback.

    • Dan C

      And why homosexuals. Why not folks discontented with regard to the Archbishops management of sex abuse cases?

    • Joejoe

      I used to live in Minnesota and what’s happening there is insane. The repeal of the statute of limitations specifically in clergy-centered sex abuse allegations, now the naming and shaming of those alleged to be abusers in the dioceses of St. Paul and Winona, along with the SSM ballot measure failing … now this.

      Wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is part of some sort of coordinated plan.

      • Dan C

        I am from Philadelphia. Having read about Neinstedt and his poor management of the sex abuse cases in his diocese, I would say the last thing Catholics would want to do is to defend a practice and management that they will be ashamed of when the Grand Jury sorts through the diocesan files.

        Archdiocsean leaders who fit all the criteria of conservative orthodoxy in Philadelphia had a horrific management of priests who were abusers. Defenders of these folks were/are still embarassed.

        Neinstedt failed and you may need to accept that. He is indefensible on his mismanagement.

        That incompetence is actually what I have come to expect post-Cardinal Law. So so often, those leaders who will listen to only syncophants run into this trouble.

        • Andy, Bad Person

          Archdiocsean leaders who fit all the criteria of conservative orthodoxy

          No tribalism here, nosiree.

      • kenofken

        “Wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is part of some sort of coordinated plan.”

        Yeah, and it’s code name is “justice, for a change.”

        • chezami

          By what crystal ball do you divine that he is guilty of the charge leveled against him? Or do you believe that merely by being a bishop he is automatically to be punished for this crime even if the charge turns out to be a false?

          • kenofken

            I said justice, not conviction. I don’t know that he is guilty at all. I do know that the way to sort it out is to let law enforcement do its job, not to stonewall and conduct “internal investigations” in which evidence is destroyed, witnesses and victims compromised etc.

            As a bishop, he should be treated no differently than any priest facing the same allegations, and no differently than you or I facing the same allegations. That means he gets a presumption of innocence, not a presumption of untouchability, and it means the investigations needs to follow the evidence where it leads.

            If there ever was an archbishop who could be considered “beyond reproach”, Nienstedt ain’t that guy. He enabled and in fact promoted a priest who now sits in prison on molestation convictions. Nienstedt did this will full knowledge of a pattern of abusive behavior by this priest. This was not 40 years ago in the dark ages of psychology. It was four years ago and the same year he is accused of personal misconduct in this latest case.

            Nienstedt has a profoundly broken sense of boundaries between men and boys and the legal and moral dangers posed by ignoring those boundaries. That doesn’t mean he has a personal proclivity to violate those boundaries himself, but it does mean that he’s not entitled to investigate and exonerate himself or to be held up as a living saint targeted by “the queers” for his saintliness and orthodoxy.

            Let the truth come out. If he’s innocent, we’ll see a transparency and eagerness by Nienstedt and the archdiocese to clear the air and put the matter behind them. If he’s not, well, we know what that response looks like.

            I find it kinda curious that police are being denied access to key people whose knowledge could easily help clear an innocent Nienstedt. They aren’t being allowed to speak with Rev. Kevin McDonough, the former vicar general who was the point man on all abuse matters during those years. Nobody knows more about abuse allegations or the characters of the men they involve than Kevin McDonough. If Nienstedt’s accuser had an obvious motive (or history) for falce accusation, if it was a lightning bolt out of the blue on an otherwise spotless personal record of Nienstedt, if McDonough has eyewitness accounts of that photo day that could clear it all up, why is he hiding behind attorneys?

        • Dave

          Legally amending the statute of limitations for ONE SINGLE organization is bigotry, pure and simple.

          • kenofken

            Was the statute of limitations in fact amended in such a way that it only applies to the RCC? Or was it the case that it was changed in response to the Church in that state, which demonstrated a hideous pattern of manipulating the limitations statute to deny justice?

            • Dave

              You appear to be right that it was changed across the board. The comment above implied that it was changed for church related abuse only, and that doesn’t appear to be correct, at least in MN.

  • Cypressclimber

    I’m not surprised this happened. Priests (and bishops) have good reason to be paranoid.

    Assuming (for sake of argument) this isn’t true, think about how sticky this is. You’re posing for pictures; you’re moving around. Does a priest have to worry about accidentally brushing his hands against someone’s back, or backside? Or just someone falling against you–your hands are up in the air–yet you could be accused of something indecent. I’m trying to be delicate. How do you defend yourself, beyond a denial?

    A priest would have to be crazy to play even touch football, soccer or basketball with anyone under 18.

    Archbishop Nienstedt has stepped back from active ministry, which his priests have to do in the same circumstance. I was just thinking about what he has to do now. He has to work with attorneys to develop a case to prove his innocence–to exclude, positively, this happening. Four years later–how hard is that? No doubt he’ll now have long sessions with attorneys, who will grill him–I mean his own attorneys!–as they develop their best case to discredit the allegation. Again–if he’s innocent–think about what that must be like? What does that cost? Who pays? If a priest is accused, I’m pretty sure he pays the bill.

    Just as the horrible abuse committed by some priests and bishops makes me sick, the thought of priests and bishops having to deal with false accusations makes me sick too.

    Meanwhile, I wonder how many priests say (under their breath): sorry, but I’m staying the h*** away from your kids!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Of course, that’s the whole idea.

    • James Isabella

      A number of years ago, when I was still in high school youth ministry, I made the following comment to one of our regular girls, “Nice boots!”

      She looked at me dumbfounded and asked, “Did you say, ‘Nice boobs!’?

      Of course I quickly clarified and we both had a laugh about it… but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking, “Wow, this is the type of misunderstanding that could have ruined me as a youth minister.” And I couldn’t even imagine if I were priest!

    • Dave

      My opinion is that people drum the inappropriate touching into their kids’ head to the extent where even an innocent accidental bumping into someone may be construed as abuse. That is almost definitely what happened here, assuming it is not an outright lie. It’s hard to tell, since accusers can apparently make accusations which have very real effects of destroying a public figure’s reputation, while the accuser and the details of the accusation remain unknown.

  • Drexel Gregory Bautista

    It’s impossible that it’s true, just based on common sense. Why would the Archbishop molest someone while taking a photo? The photo would be evidence of the wrongdoing.

    It’s not unusual to put your hand on someone’s shoulder or hip while taking pics. The more pics you’re in, the more room there is for innocent errors in hand placement.

    I’m sorry that the Archbishop has to be inconvenienced by such a stupid waste of time.

  • Eve Fisher

    I agree that the charges are likely to be bogus. However, I’ve discussed this with some Catholics (which I am not), whose reaction is, “Well, that explains why he helped cover up the child abuse in the past.” That’s really what he’s in trouble for, that’s really what he’ll be tried for (if this goes to trial) – for covering it up.

    The trust of the people in the pews has been sadly shaken, if not destroyed. In too many parishes, dioceses, churches, schools, children were sexually abused. Instead of recognizing it for the hideous crime/sin that it is (read Matthew 18:6), and doing something about it, it was covered up, and priests were shuffled from one parish to another, so that the institution could continue as is. Thank God for Pope Francis.