Archbishop Nienstedt cleared of wrongdoing in alleged touching case

Some Catholic observers believe the accusation may have been an attempt at payback for the archbishop’s strong defense of Catholic moral teaching
Wed Mar 12, 2014 - 7:11 pm EST

ST. PAUL, March 12, 2014 ( – Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case of a boy who claimed he was inappropriately touched during his Confirmation ceremony in 2009. 

Nienstedt will now resume his public ministry duties, from which he had stepped aside during the investigation.

The archbishop was accused in December of having touched a boy’s buttocks at a public event.  But on Tuesday, investigators with the St. Paul Police and the Ramsey County attorney’s office said they could find no evidence that he had done so.

"St. Paul police conducted an extensive investigation surrounding (the) allegation,” the Ramsey County attorney’s office said in a press release. “Based on the investigative file presented by police, the Ramsey County attorney's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Archbishop Nienstedt.”

For their investigation, police interviewed both Nienstedt and his accuser, and analyzed a group photo taken at the time the boy claimed he was touched.

The boy claimed Nienstedt touched him while he and the other children were gathered on a staircase for the photo.  Nienstedt was standing behind the boy, one step above him.  The photo shows Nienstedt with one hand on his crozier, and the other on the boy’s shoulder.  The boy told police the archbishop later dropped his hand and briefly touched his buttocks, but did not squeeze or rub.

St. Paul police interviewed all nine other people present in the group photo, including a priest and deacon.  None of them could remember seeing anyone being touched or looking startled in any way.

According to a memo by Richard Dusterhoft, director of the county attorney's criminal division, the boy “did not feel violated” by the alleged touch.  “The male said he was concerned about the attention the incident was receiving and did not believe the incident was significant.”

For his own part, Nienstedt denied the charge entirely.  “The archbishop said he would not have touched the male's buttocks,” wrote Dusterhoft.  "[He] wondered if another confirmand could have touched the victim as a joke."

Dusterhoft agreed that it was unlikely that Nienstedt would have touched the boy.

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“It appears from the photograph that the archbishop would have to bend to reach the male's buttocks and that any such action would have likely been witnessed by others present," Dusterhoft wrote. "It also seems unlikely that the archbishop, if he were so inclined, would pick that moment to sexually touch a random boy openly in front of another clergy member, a deacon, and numerous other confirmands while the confirmands' family members were preparing to document the moment in photographs."

Archbishop Nienstedt released a statement thanking police and prosecutors for their work, and said he was anxious to return to his own responsibilities.

“I am thankful to the Saint Paul Police for their thorough investigation, as well as to the Ramsey County Attorney’s office for their professional work regarding this matter,” said Nienstedt. “I look forward to returning to public ministry during this Lenten season, especially during Holy Week and the great feast of Easter.”

Nienstedt also said the archdiocese remains committed to defending children against sexual abuse by clergy, and urged anyone who feels they have been violated by a Church authority to contact the police and archdiocese’s Director of Advocacy and Victim Assistance.

Some Catholic observers believe the accusation and subsequent investigation may have been an attempt at payback for the archbishop’s strong defense of Catholic moral teaching.  Nienstedt is particularly outspoken against both abortion and homosexual behavior, both of which the Catholic Church hold to be gravely sinful.  In the past, he has withheld the Eucharist from homosexual activists who presented themselves for Communion wearing pro-homosexual buttons and sashes. More recently, the archbishop led a $600 million fight to oppose same-sex “marriage” in Minnesota, an action that made vicious enemies of liberal priests and parishioners who dissent from Church teachings on sexuality.

“What happened to Archbishop Nienstedt was not a mistake,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. “It reflects a deeper problem: We are living in a culture of hate—hatred of all matters Catholic—led by those whose goal it is to take down a bishop. Every bishop is a potential target, but none more than those who are seen as being inimical to the ‘progressive’ agenda.”