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. Robert

    There have been thousands of priests who were accused and proven to be guilty. There are also a substantial number (>100 per centers for law and justice) who have been falsely accused.

    Give this man his day in court and let him face his accuser before judgment is passed.

    If guilty, of course punish him.

    If innocent, then restore him.

    That's how our justice system is "supposed" to work.

    December 17, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • PBC

      Restoration is not a possibility. The man's reputation is in the toilet forever. In most people's mind an accusation is always true, even if proven to be false. Good bye Bishop.

      December 17, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • G to the T

      "who have been falsely accused." Found "Not Guilty" is not the same as having been falsely accused. Some lawyers are just better than others.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Jesus Christ Son of God

    Well, this will keep the new Pope out of the news for a while. The new pope should make an example of this archbishop. Draw and quarter him in the Vatican square. Pay-per-view.

    December 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
  3. Mopery

    Anyone else would have been arrested, booked, fingerprinted, and forced to put up bail money or be stuck in jail. Our justice system is no longer just. Our "elected" officials no longer represent the people. Our press no longer investigates before reporting, and no longer reports on anything of importance. We are enslaved in ignorance, imprisoned by debt, and controlled by fear. Happy holidays.

    December 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm |

  4. Why must men who can't allow themselves to touch women, and don't want to touch each other or themselves, touch children?

    December 17, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • Jesus was a child molester

      Because they still have the sucking reflex.

      December 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  5. Juan


    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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    If you want to KEEP your Healthcare plan you can PERIOD
    If you LOVE your doctors you can keep them PERIOD.
    ...No body can take it away from you...F! Oba...masturbator LIED.

    December 17, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
    • .

      Are you lost?

      December 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      you look good in that aluminum foil hat ...

      December 17, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
  6. pkfops

    Religion is a mental illness.

    December 17, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
  7. delvin

    Aye a wee bit of rest and the good father will be spanking new!

    December 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  8. sky proof

    Here is a web list of pedo priests see if there is one near you !! its alphabetical


    December 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • marc wilson

      where's the Muslim list? You idiots think Catholics are the only ones?

      December 17, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
      • JJ

        You care to post the Muslim list? No? Why not? You pedophile supporters are most disgusting.

        December 17, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
      • doobzz

        Who said they were the only ones?

        December 17, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  9. bspurloc

    if this dude was REMOTELY religious he would CONFESS all his sins to the nearest police department and due his TIME... "GOD" will protect him in jail.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  10. bspurloc

    Leave of Absence?!?! why is he not in JAIL.
    These religions need to stop acting like they are morally better than others cuz their faerie tale is better...
    A Jail Cell should be where his absence takes him

    December 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • TKO

      Look, these guys that abuse kids totally disgust me, but this man has not been found guilty, has not stood trial, has not even been charged. Let's not get hysterical here.

      December 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
      • bspurloc

        I know what.
        Since he is so High on the Moral Chain of Christianity, let us just ASK him if he did anything wrong.
        He would NEVER lie, especially knowing this dude in the sky will know and he will get coal in his stocking.

        December 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
        • whatever

          Since you have done some putrid things, you should be kicked in the balls... just saying....

          December 17, 2013 at 9:21 pm |
  11. bob marks

    Pope Gaga : If a man of the cloth touches a child , Well Who Am I To Judge let god be the Judge ?
    That should should sweep the issue right under the carpet ! pass it onto the big man in the sky Job Done?

    Really ! why are you in power exactly ?.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • VeritasLuxMea

      Gaga is smarter than the average trailer trash and knows the difference between the relationship between consenting adults and an adult an a minor.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
      • VeritasLuxMea

        Gaga is smarter than the average trailer trash and knows the difference between the relationship between consenting adults and an adult and a minor.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • .

      Don't try and paraphrase the Pope. You look like an ass.

      December 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  12. Minnesotan

    Regardless of how this incident ends, this church official has not shown himself to be genuinely concerned about child abuse practices within his organization. See this MPR link for background on what occurred here on his watch:


    He is a well known conservative in his interpretation of Catholicism and instead of focusing on the issue of priest pedophiles, he has spent much attention and church funding (including an archdiocese-wide dvd distribution) against marriage equality (lost that one), abortion, and–horrors of horrors–use of birth control. He even wrote a response to a mother telling her she'd end up in hell should she reach out in a conciliatory fashion to her adult gay son. So that type of family values guy, but don't clean house in regards to the long term issue of moving pedophile priests around to continue their abusive acts while preventing any legal prosecution of them for their crimes.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
  13. jim mraz

    The church is hiding these people that's the problem , This Pope has did 0% all he has done is kissed a few babies and in this context I think he should stop it. Exploiting kids for his self purpose & his mentally crippling of the young to expand his empire, is just as sick as this monster .

    December 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • .

      Cut the crap. He's been Pope exactly nine months, you have no creaking clue as to what he's going to do. Shut up.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
      • bob marks

        Yes He and his Vatican boys bought A 5 million dollar property with the biggest GAY SAUNA in EUROPE in it.... NICE START DON'T YOU THINK ?

        December 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
        • LP

          Can you clarify to what you are referring exactly here?

          December 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
        • .

          Prove it. Post a link that stated equivocally that Pope Francis did anything of the sort.

          December 17, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
        • Bob sounds like

          A big old liar.

          December 17, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
        • jim mraz

          Pope buys gay sauna... huffington post god enough for you LOL

          December 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  14. fan

    It is a allegation not a charge, BIG Difference!

    December 17, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  15. slim james

    POPE QUOTE !! It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world."

    How about this POPE GAGA think of how many compensation claims your sick pedophile hiding church can give out to heal ?

    December 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • .

      They're donated, most of the time. I also see many nuns in station wagons that are 20 years old.
      You are grasping at straws to propel your faux outrage.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • bob marks

        Shut up DONATED .. by the poor in the community who put cash in the plate .....

        You should hide your IP address before replying , it says Vatican (damage control) !!!!!

        December 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • .

          Donated by car dealerships, you stupid ass.
          You should hide yours; it says Mobile, Alabama, which explains your stupidity.

          December 17, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  16. HighThinker

    Sooner or later Pope Frank is going to have to start dealing with the culture of pedophilia in the church. Yes, there are still a lot of Catholics out there that will forgive this behavior, but more and more people are fed up. And when it comes to the suits – a billion here and a billion there, and after a while you're talking abut real money.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Just someone

      Anything pedo falls in the category of creepy, and creepy needs to stop. We need to have a war on creepy.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

      How do you know he isn't starting to? There are many ways to skin a cat, but I would agree ultimately we'll be looking for proof that he is all the he claims to be. An admission, though, could actually break the Church, and then we'd be left with Protestants in all their evangelical forms. I'm not supporting what has happened, but I am saying there may be reasons this is coming out slowing and now as a grand announcement.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • HELLO

      Maybe everybody should do a little research for themselves. Just because some priests molest boys, doesn't mean they are more likely to than regular men. Look it up. Sure it's a problem, but abuse by priests is no more pervasive than abuse by men in GENERAL.


      December 17, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  17. Free Thinking Ex Catholic

    The thing that concerns me is that the bishop stated he didn't have inappropriate contact with a minor. Red flag. He didn't say he didn't put his hands on the boy's bottom. He said he didn't have inappropriate contact. Huge difference. Pedophile priest, it's been shown, often don't think they are doing inappropriate things. They think the child seduces them or whatever.

    The questions need to be specific. Bishop: did you ever put your hand there. Period. Then read the reaction.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

      It'll come out in court – just need to give it time.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
    • JJ

      I caught that too. Pedophile central (the RCC) are full of these monsters and their supporters/parishioners.

      December 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  18. fred

    This smells like a money grab to me. If this happened at a public photo shoot there should be witnesses.

    December 17, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • Science Works

      maybe NOT fred

      St. Paul Police Chief: Archdiocese Has Not Been Very Cooperative on Se-x Abuse Cases, That Has to Change

      December 17, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • Science Works

      By the way fred what about the 1.4 million year old hand bone that closes the human fossil gap ?

      December 17, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • Youtube - Teresa MacBain "Shift Happens"

        It'll never close the gap for him – he's willfully ignorant.

        December 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
        • Science Works

          Just maybe it might help fill the gap between the ears – fred !

          December 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • doobzz

      Possibly, but the ex mayor of San Diego used to grabass at photo shoots all the time. If there's just a few people in the photo, and their attention is on the camera, they might not see what's going on in back of them.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  19. nepawoods

    This happened at a public photo shoot?

    December 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • ?


      December 17, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  20. Counterpoint

    Why the leave? Why not just terminate him from the position?

    December 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • .

      I know....guilty until proven innocent.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • doobzz

      Well, to be fair, these are allegations. Nothing has been proven. As long as he doesn't have access to children anymore, we have to let the judicial system take over.

      December 17, 2013 at 8:45 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.