December 17th, 2013
02:27 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) The Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been accused of inappropriately touching a boy and will take a voluntary leave of absence during an investigation of the incident, the archdiocese announced on Tuesday.
Archbishop John Nienstedt learned this weekend that a young man says the Catholic leader "inappropriately touched his buttocks" during a public photo session after a church ceremony, the archdiocese said. The accuser, who is a male minor, says the incident happened in 2009, according to the archdiocese.
"I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me," Niendstedt said in a statement posted on the website of his archdiocese.
"I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say 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."
Nienstedt continued, "my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors. I have met victims and I know the lasting damage that such abuse causes."
"I hope that the investigations can be thorough but quick," the archbishop added. "I already long to be back in public ministry—to be able to serve as the Lord has called me to serve."
Nienstedt's decision to take a temporary leave of absence was made after consulting with the Pope's U.S. ambassador, the archdiocese said in a statement on Tuesday. Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over Nienstedt's public duties during the archbishop's absence.
The Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful welcomed Nienstedt's announcement. "This action demonstrates that no one in the Church, whether bishop or employee, should be protected from the consequences of such allegations," the group said in a statement.
But Voice of the Faithful and other Catholic reform groups have insisted that Nienstedt should resign permanently for another reason: failing to abide by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' sexual abuse guidelines.
The archdiocese has denied any wrongdoing but pledged on December 5 to revamp the way it handles abuse cases and discloses credible accusations against clergy to the public.
Earlier this month, under a court order, the archdiocese released the names of 30 priests it believes sexually abused children since 1950. Police in St. Paul have asked victims of clergy sexual abuse to come forward.
On Sunday, the archbishop spoke at a church in Edina, Minnesota, and apologized for aspects of the sexual abuse scandal that have roiled his diocese in recent months.
“When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it,” Niensted told reporters, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Unfortunately I believed that. … And so my biggest apology today is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. When the story started to break at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.”
Nienstedt has been a vocal advocate against same-sex marriage, putting him at odds with more liberal Catholics in Minnesota. The state legalized gay marriage in August.
"I have taken strong stands on the moral teachings of the Church and been criticized for it," the archbishop said on Tuesday. "I would not have done so if I did not believe those teachings and was personally bound to living up to them in practice."
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.