The Roman Catholic archbishop of Minneapolis and St. Paul, who has been particularly outspoken against homosexuality, is under investigation for allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with other men, including priests and seminarians, reports Catholic magazine Commonweal.
Late last year, a former Twin Cities priest accused Archbishop John Nienstedt of making unwanted sexual advances, and Nienstedt agreed to hire an outside law firm, Minneapolis-based Greene Espel, to investigate the matter, the magazine reports. So far, “the investigators have received about 10 sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as bishop of New Ulm [Minn.], and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Jennifer Haselberger, a former lawyer with the Twin Cities archdiocese, told Commonweal. Nienstedt, she said, “also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”
Nienstedt issued a statement calling the accusations a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.” He elaborated in an interview with Commonweal, saying, “I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone. The allegations are a decade old or more, prior to my service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.” He added that “none of the allegations involve minors or illegal or criminal behavior.”
When Greene Espel completes its investigation, it will present a report to the archdiocese, which will then turn it over to Pope Francis’s ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Commonweal reports.
Nienstedt, the Twin Cities’ archbishop since 2008, has been involved in other controversies. Several lawsuits claim he failed to properly investigate allegations that priests under his authority engaged in sexual abuse of children. Haselberger was a whistleblower regarding the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
He has also made opposition to homosexuality one of the hallmarks of his church career. In 2006, while bishop of New Ulm, he wrote a column urging Catholics to stay away from the film Brokeback Mountain. Of motion picture industry leaders, he wrote, “Surely they must be aware that they have turned their backs on God and the standards of God in their quest to make evil look so attractive.”
In 2012 he headed a coalition of religious leaders pushing a ballot measure that would write a ban on same-sex marriage into Minnesota’s constitution. Voters rejected the measure in that year’s election, and the following year the state legislature passed a marriage equality bill, signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.