John Nienstedt, the Catholic archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, is coming under heavy fire over allegations that he and other archdiocesan officials covered up sexual abuse and possession of child pornography by priests. The burgeoning scandal has already landed one priest in jail, triggered a lawsuit against the archdiocese, and prompted calls for Nienstedt's resignation, particularly because the Twin Cities archdiocese had claimed to be a "national leader" in addressing the problem of priestly sexual misconduct.
The revelations were exposed by Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer whom Nienstedt appointed in 2008 specifically to oversee church records relating to abusive priests. After years of frustration over archdiocesan inaction, Haselberger resigned in protest last April. But she remained so troubled by what she knew that she went to Minnesota Public Radio last month and blew the whistle.
As priests came up for promotion, Haselberger searched church files for any disciplinary problems. Digging deeper, she found separate stored files detailing how some priests had long histories of sexual addiction and abuse. She warned Nienstedt about what she'd learned, she says.
"I wanted them to do the right thing," Haselberger says. "I wanted them to take allegations seriously. I wanted them to get offending priests out of ministry. I wanted them to be disclosing to the police and working with law enforcement to make sure that our churches were safe for children, and the vulnerable and the elderly."
She then discovered that some abusive priests got special payments, like the Rev. Robert Kapoun, who for 14 years received nearly $1,000 a month on top of his pension...
Haselberger says that for her, one of the last straws came when a priest was arrested for and convicted of sexually abusing children.
Several years earlier, Haselberger had examined the lengthy file of that priest, Curtis Wehmeyer. Documents showed he had approached young men for sex in a bookstore.
Haselberger says she gave the information to Nienstedt. Soon after, he appointed Wehmeyer pastor of two parishes.
In another case, the archdiocese had kept images of child pornography belonging to one of its priests secret for eight years. Haselberger deployed what she called the "nuclear option" in a last-ditch effort to force Archbishop Nienstedt to do the right thing: she appealed to his conscience, sending him a selection of the disturbing images in the hopes that they'd impel him to call the police:
"Haselberger went back to her office, copied several images into an electronic document and sent the document to Nienstedt. Some of the images from the archdiocese's files on the Rev. Jonathan Shelley, 52, appeared to show boys performing oral sex.
"The archbishop never called police, she said."
Months later, when one of Nienstedt's underlings ordered Haselberger to hand over the child pornography, she did so, then contacted police herself. But by the time investigators reviewed all the evidence provided by the archdiocese, the pornographic images had mysteriously (or conveniently?) disappeared.
The scandal has shaken the faith of many Catholics across the archdiocese. Some parishioners -- and even some priests -- are calling for Nienstedt to resign. While the archbishop has apologized, he's offered no indication that he plans to step down.
Hypocrisy in Excelsis
If John Nienstedt's name looks familiar, dear reader, it's because he's one of the Catholic Church's most outspoken homophobes. In fact, Nienstedt has arguably inserted himself more deeply into the battle over civil marriage in his state than any other Catholic bishop across the country. (And considering some of the competition, that's quite the accomplishment!)
Among Nienstedt's greatest hits:
And all the while, as John Nienstedt led this unholy crusade against LGBT Minnesotans -- at the very same time that he repeatedly and viciously attacked and smeared LGBT people, couples, families, and allies -- Nienstedt shielded child molesters and protected priests who possessed child pornography.
Nienstedt's arrogance, hypocrisy, and moral bankruptcy can only be described as astounding. It disgusts me on such a visceral level that if I hadn't already left the Catholic Church, I'd be walking out the door at this very moment.
Here's hoping that Catholics across the state of Minnesota do just that -- if not with their feet, at least with their wallets.