Archbishop accused of abuse, takes leave of absence
Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minnesota has been accused of inappropriate sexual touching.
December 17th, 2013
02:27 PM ET

Archbishop accused of abuse, takes leave of absence

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
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(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."

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Sex abuse

soundoff (243 Responses)
  1. peter225

    I miss the good old days when the Catholic church would just move the guy to another church and let him do it again rather than own up to the epidemic.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • bspurloc

      cuz this is any different? just going to step down? not going to tell the police all the names of boys he molested? that is what Mr Jesus would do.... go straight to jail... but he doesnt believe in any man in the sky. he knows what jail has waiting for him

      December 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
      • Susan StoHelit

        Yeah, this is different – a mere allegation – and a pretty feeble one – and he's stepping down – versus fighting, keeping secrets, etc.

        What other instances are you talking about here? The guy is alleged to have possibly touched a boy's butt during a photo – something that even if fully true could have been nothing but an accident. Unless you have other info, that's pretty light.

        December 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  2. Age of Reason

    ...."what riches hath not this fable of the Christ not brought us?!"
    Pope Leo X

    ...if the Pope doesn't believe that jesus existed , then why should you?

    December 17, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • nepawoods

      Funny, I google that phrase, and get two hits, posted to comments, from 6 hours ago and 7 days ago.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  3. abbydelabbey

    The CC still seems to have a problem keeping their hands to themselves....

    December 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  4. Michael

    Where is the reporting of him being completely anti-gay?

    December 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  5. Doris

    "Inappropiately touched his buttocks". What was claimed to be inappropriate about it? Ridiculous story.

    December 17, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

      We'll see who else comes out of hiding.

      December 17, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
      • Doris

        Well yes, that has been a pattern with this kind of thing.

        December 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  6. Youtube - Teresa MacBain

    A testimonial from John Compere, PhD

    "I was a fifth-generation Baptist minister, ordained at age 18, while in college. I served until age 32 when I left the ministry and the church to get a PhD in Clinical Psychology. I had already completed a three-year seminary degree following college, which only increased my doubts about the authenticity of the theology I had learned from childhood. Leaving the ministry was not an easy decision to make since all my friends and family were in the church. But it was a decision I ultimately HAD to make if I didn't want to risk being publicly phony and privately cynical. I became an agnostic, then an atheist, NOT because I hadn't read the Bible, but because I had! An atheist, by the way, is simply someone who does not believe in a supernatural being. I am convinced that the evidence supports that view. All religion suffers from being bound by unchanging myth.

    As a psychologist, I continued to try to help people find meaning in their lives. I taught at the university and medical school, had a private clinical practice, and then became a professional speaker on "Psychology You Can USE!" I seriously doubt that life has any ultimate meaning, but I'm convinced that we can make our own meaning, and I have spent the last 45 years since I left the ministry trying to help people do just that. Success is not the goal - all therapists have dealt with many a successful person who was miserable - life satisfaction is the goal.

    When I made my career change, I was essentially on my own. I wish something like The Clergy Project had been around then. I could surely have used it. The goal of this project is not to try to convince believing clergy to give up their faith. Rather, it is to help those in the clergy who, for their own individual reasons, are no longer able to believe, to try to figure out how to make a huge sea-change in their lives. It may well be the absolutely most challenging career change anyone can make. We simply want to help make it easier."

    December 17, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • joe

      What has this self serving advertisement have to do with the story about the Archbishop?

      December 17, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Tobias

      No faith in the continuation of consciousness after the death of the physical body is unnatural, IMHO. Prove to me that when your body ceases to live we do not continue on, then again it can't be proven that we do. This is where faith comes in, having faith in yourself is fine, but having no faith in something bigger than yourself is short sighted. I am not condemning you for your beliefs, I applaud you for them, but with all the beauty AND destruction in the universe......who can say we are all here by accident.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
      • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

        Funny, if I claim I don't know what happens, then by your logic it's yours to prove because you are making the claim.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
        • Tobias

          You are claiming nothing happens, saying you don't know what happens is different. I don't know what happens, but my faith is strong that something does. What that is I don't know, I'm not supporting any religion here, I just believe there is a continuation after the death of the physical body. I don't expect to die and meet St. Peter or see the pearly gates....but I expect something.

          December 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
        • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

          I haven't made any claims, it's not my story (notice the quotes). I placed that here for believers.

          December 17, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          Tobias, Yes it is purely faith. You have no reason to expect that except the believers' determination that there must be a purpose. Which is more logical – to believe in something for which you have no evidence or to not believe in something for which you have no evidence. You may as well believe in the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, aliens, unicorns, etc.

          December 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
      • G to the T

        "No faith in the continuation of consciousness after the death of the physical body is unnatural, IMHO" It may be counter-intuitive but it certainly isn't "unnatural". We are born dualists, it's just how our brain works, so it's "natural" for someone to assume that the mind is separate from the body. All evidence so far however, points to the opposite – we are not mind and body, we are body and brain.

        December 18, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Free Thinking Ex Catholic

      Thank you for your story. It's not easy going from being the "In Crowd" of the faithful, to an outcast (atheists are ranked on par with rapist as far as the public is concerned, Univ. Oregon 2012 study shows that).

      What I'd like to know is, do you like barbecue or sweet and sour with the babies you eat? You know, we atheists apparently eat babies. 🙂

      December 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

        It's not my story, it's his (notice the quotes). It's for the believers that read here.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
        • Free Thinking Ex Catholic

          Poor wording on my part. Good catch. Thanks.

          December 17, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • doobzz

      "A former United Methodist minister-turned-atheist was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University on Thursday after it was revealed she falsified her resume.

      Teresa MacBain, one of the most high-profile nonbelievers in the country after profiles by NPR, The New York Times and Religion News Service, was fired from her newly created position with the Humanist Community at Harvard.

      MacBain, who started her job at the beginning of September, had planned to travel the country starting humanist communities at schools and organizations nationwide.

      In a statement posted on Facebook Thursday (Sept. 26), MacBain acknowledged she had misrepresented her education to Harvard, to the broader atheist community and to reporters.

      “I have committed a grave error in judgment that I deeply regret,” MacBain wrote. “While I did not do anything with malice or with intention to harm others, my actions were still wrong.”


      A screen name to be proud of for sure.

      December 17, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
  7. Ben M.

    Pope Francis is coming for you....

    December 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  8. bwild72

    just a kid looking for money

    December 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Ya know, that is probably true. I mean really ? In a PUBLIC photo-taking session ? He probably just tried to get the kid more into the photo. There really are some bad people doing bad things. It doesn't help the REAL victims, when fakes try to make up crap from nothing.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Alias

      A Very public case that is shown to be a false acusation could be very valuable for the church.
      But don't listen to me – I'm a believer in conspiracies and cover ups.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • dzerres

      still making excuses for the Church? How Christ-like of you.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  9. bostontola

    "I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false."

    Interesting quote, with just a slight tweak:

    "I presume they are sincere in believing what they claim, but I must say that those claims are absolutely and entirely false." Claim being, the God of the Bible is real.

    December 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Live4Him

      Claim being, the God of the Bible is not real.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
      • Rodents for Romney

        Well we know the god of the Bible is the 70 son of El Elyon, the Babylonian war god, ... the god of the armies, (the "Lord of Hosts", so yeah, if you're trying to say the ENTIRE Babylonian pantheon is real, you're lookin' pretty ridiculous. Pick and choose your deities much ?

        December 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
      • bostontola

        Your version would have validity if there was any objective evidence, but there is precious little. Objective evidence for my version is plentiful. The bible has many factual, and logical errors, as well as questionable moral elements.

        December 17, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus Christ and St. Paul said that we would need the releasing power of the Holy Spirit to overcome our natural lust or the lust of our body. Obviously the RCC clergy lacks the Holy Spirit.

    What hinders the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Roman Catholic Church?

    First of all, they are too much a self-contained club of alleged "true believers". They see no reason why they should preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the damned infidels (ordinary Americans). Furthermore they condemn the infidels or ordinary people for their sins instead of telling them of a deliverer who could set them free. Therefore God has condemned them to commit the sins of which they accuse other people. Judging ordinary people is against God's Spirit who wants us to love the people despite their sins, and the pronouncement of the Gospel.

    Secondly, they have a great longing to rule, therefore the RCC is a strict hierarchy – otherwise they would slay each other in order to enforce their claim to power. That displaces the Spirit of Christ who is meek and humble.

    Thirdly, they seek the applaus of the world but the Spirit seeks God's applaus.

    Fourthly, they accu-mulate wealth and riches, and let the poor people suffer and die instead of helping them. God's Spirit is a Spirit of compassion and charity.

    Every Catholic priest who really wants to follow Christ should forsake the RCC, and join the Christian Church where the Spirit dwells. The Spirit will give him the power to overcome the lust of the body, and to love God and his neighbour through Jesus Christ.

    December 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Science Works

      Germany is losing religion faster than the US Rainy – Now that is a BUMMER !

      December 17, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
      • Rainer Braendlein

        What I wrote is valid for Germany as well.

        December 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
        • Science Works

          The whole deal is really BS ( might even be criminal) and hopefully they (Minnesota) won't let the Bishop leave .

          December 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
        • Rodents for Romney

          What you babble about is never valid for anyone. You seem to be under the impression that asserting your opinion is worth something.

          December 17, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
        • sam stone

          come on, rodents.....be fair

          rainy is god's spokesperson

          rainy and topher/gopher

          rainy, topher/gopher and vic

          rainy, topher/gopher, vic and larry of arabia

          rainy, topher/gopher, vic, larry of arabia and robert young

          rainy, topher/gopher, vic, larry of arabia, robert young and jw

          rainy, topher/gopher, vic, larry of arabia, robert young, jw and whichever inbred punk with a bible shoved up their rectum who feels that THEY have the correct word

          they have a common delusion

          December 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      RB,It looks as if this Pope is doing just that,hopefully ,the rest will follow the leader. Remember they hav'nt had someone like him in a long time,so it may take a while to turn that huge ship around.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Patrick in Wisconsin

      Question: What?

      December 17, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      ah, god's spokesman speaks again

      rainy.......jeebus is waiting

      got a sidearm?

      December 17, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Billy

      Oh good grief- I wish Rainer and Douglas would just get a room and be done with it.

      December 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • ?

      Ah, here is Ranier the Protestant, predictably bashing the RCC once again; an easy target as the RCC is a cohesive enti.ty while Protestantism is fractured into several thousand warring factions.

      Wah, Ranier. Your faith is no more relevant than the billion who are RC's.
      You are no Christian. You are just a malcontent who doesn't practice what you preach to Catholics.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • wilf

      I was with you up to the last paragraph. You are a Pharisee

      December 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  11. The safe distance rule

    2.2B paid out to 100000 victims. Money is not always a motivation in these accusations,but it sure could be.

    The RCC should enforce the safe distance rule; the 'safe distance rule' states that a safe distance be maintained at all times and is measured as twice the arms length to be maintained around a priest at all times. This protects all the human beings involved..

    December 17, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Dodd Frank

      Fair enough!

      December 17, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  12. It's a fact Jack

    "During the devastating Black Death of the fourteenth century, patients who were sick or dead were kept in the same rooms as the rest of the family. People often wondered why the disease was affecting so many people at one time. They attributed these epidemics to ‘bad air’ or ‘evil spirits.’ However, careful attention to the medical commands of God as revealed in Leviticus would have saved untold millions of lives. Arturo Castiglione wrote about the overwhelming importance of this biblical medical law: ‘The laws against leprosyin Leviticus 13 may be regarded as the first model of sanitary legislation’ (A History of Medicine)." Grant R. Jeffery, The Signature of God With all these truths revealed in Scripture,how could a thinking person deny that the Bible is supernatural in origin? There is no other book in any of the world’s religions (Vedas, Bhagavad-Gita, Koran, Book of Mormon, etc.) that contains scientific truth. In fact, they contain statements that are clearly unscientific. Hank Hanegraaff said, "Faith in Christ is not some blind leap into a dark chasm, but a faith based on established evidence." (11:3 continued)

    December 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      That's really a stretch Jack. The priest makes a decision after 7 days? Wouldn't have helped much with the Black Death.
      You know why people say "bless you" after someone sneezes, right? Because sickness was believed to be caused by evil spirits; we've know for a few centuries that that is not true. No one is fooled by your dance. Move into the 20th century or better still this one.

      December 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      how do you come up with this stuff?! The mental gymnastics you have to perform to somehow link all these things to an imaginary sky fairy without a shred of proof or logic just amazes me.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      Talking snakes, pillars of salt, lamb's blood on doorways, dragons and a global flood that has been categorically denied as ever happening. The list goes on, but yeah – so much science it makes your head spin!

      December 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why didn't god write about how to create antibiotics or immunizations?

      because the bible is bronze age ramblings by primitive men. every now and then a little common sense shines through and you somehow think it's divine.

      what a tool you are!

      December 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      Nice. But Leviticus GOT the laws from the already extant culture, as well as every other norm, in the Bible.
      NONE of them were unique to the Bible, and ALL were known to exist in the Ancient Near East.
      Nice try. Take a history course.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  13. Honey Badger Don't Care

    He should be taking his leave of absence in JAIL!!!

    December 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  14. Bootyfunk

    ex-pope Benedict wrote an article about his time as pope:
    Being Pope Was Great, But You Can’t Play Make-Believe Forever


    December 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  15. Mary

    Why couldn't it have been an accident?

    December 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      "Earlier this month, under a court order, the archdiocese released the names of 30 priests it believes s.exually abused children since 1950. Police in St. Paul have asked victims of clergy s.exual abuse to come forward."

      31 accidents sure seems like a lot...

      December 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Rodents for Romney

      I agree with Mary. In this case it's a witch hunt. He has no history, and no other accusations. Human behaviors come in patterns. He has no history, and NOT ONE other accusation. If he had a history, it might give one pause. He does not.
      He is innocent until proven guilty.

      December 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Without anything else, this sounds like an accident – to this atheist, very angry about the coverup, individual.

      Which has me wondering – either they're overreacting a little to regain trust – or there is more to this. Either option seems credible.

      Because an inappropriate touch during a photo is pretty extremely common.

      December 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
    – Matthew 18:7-9

    that damn hand ... touching that sweet boy's booty ...

    December 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  17. Charm Quark

    Seems like a very carefully phrased comment, never had inappropriate contact with a minor, kind of begs the question did he have a gay relationship at all while condemning the gay life style, aka, the Scottish Cardinal O'Brien. Hopefully his underlings will rat him out if he is shading the truth.

    December 17, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • bspurloc

      why would a christian lie? they are a higher moral standard than US. and "god" knows everything they have done, they cant hide it. so there is no way he is lying COME ON!

      December 17, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  18. CommonSensed

    In other words…this whole abuse thing just wasn't our problem until it happened to me.


    December 17, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  19. It's a fact Jack

    There are so many false prophets and fake Christians that make us real ones look bad. Everyone will be held accountable though. Don't let other people discourage you from making your own decision, only you determine your eternity.

    December 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      So be good for goodness' sake…whoa…somebody's comin'...

      December 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG


        December 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      have faith in your brothers and sisters - not an invisible sky-god that doesn't exist.

      modern ethics > biblical morals

      December 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care


      You need to look up the "no true Scottsman" falacy.

      December 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Counterpoint

        That's a good fallacy to look up, so are deductive fallacies

        December 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • bspurloc

      everyone's eternity is to be fried by the Sun when it supernovas.
      U have no say over that bra

      December 17, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  20. K-switch


    December 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
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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.