Media reports claiming Abp. John Nienstedt under investigation are ‘inaccurate’: police
ST. PAUL, November 19, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – St. Paul police called a press conference last week to set the record straight after local news outlet KSTP alleged Archbishop John Nienstedt was under criminal investigation for covering up child porn use and possible sex abuse by a priest in his diocese.
According to police spokesman Howie Padilla, KSTP’s report was “inaccurate.”
“At this moment … Archbishop John Nienstedt and former vicar general Father Peter Laird are not the focus of investigation,” Padilla told reporters. “As we stand here this day, they're not being investigated."
According to Padilla, neither the archbishop nor Laird are currently suspected of any wrongdoing in the case of Rev. Jon Shelley, who was initially investigated several years ago on suspicion of possessing child porn.
Archdiocesan officials cooperated with the seven-month-long investigation, turning over the contents of Shelley’s computer to police, who closed the case because they could find no evidence Shelley had accessed illegal material: although he had a lot of porn, it was all adult. Shelley was sent to a treatment facility in Maryland to get help for his pornography addiction.
But in October, canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger went digging through old records and found the discs containing Shelley’s porn collection, which she said contained images of boys whom she thought might have been underage. She claims she confronted her superiors and was told that the matter had already been dealt with and to return the discs to the vault. When she pressed them to call the authorities, she says they asked her to turn over the discs, which she did. She then contacted law enforcement to insist she had uncovered material that proved Shelley had viewed child porn.
The police reopened the case, and on November 12, KTSP reported that both Archbishop Nienstedt and Fr. Laird were under investigation for possible obstruction of justice – something that police have denied.
“[Haselberger] has either done a very stupid thing or a very brave thing, and I’d like to believe it’s the latter,” Steve Cribari, a University of Minnesota law professor and the first American layperson to become a canon lawyer, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. But he reminded readers of the paper that many allegations against priests eventually prove to be false.
“We’re in a kind of reverse inquisition, aren’t we, in a lot of this?" Cribari said. “This is still the United States and you are still innocent until proven guilty in our courts.”
KTSP’s report had led to widespread calls for the archbishop’s resignation from left-leaning Catholic groups who have long objected to his traditional views. Many of them have been calling for him to step down since he led the Archdiocese in an all-out campaign opposing same-sex “marriage” in Minnesota last year.
“We have grave concerns that the pastoral needs of the archdiocese will be compromised by the amount of time, energy and money that Archbishop Nienstedt will expend as he defends himself and his previous actions in the ongoing sexual abuse and cover-up crisis,” wrote the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), an activist organization comprised of several smaller dissident groups such as Roman Catholic “Womenpriests,” Call to Action, FutureChurch and St. Stephen’s “Catholic Community.”
Another dissident priest, Fr. Michael Tegeder, wrote to his parishioners at St. Frances Cabrini parish, arguing that “the archbishop never had credible leadership to begin with.” Tegeder has repeatedly clashed with Niendstedt over numerous issues, including abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ and priestly celibacy.
But despite the damage done to Nienstedt’s reputation, and the police department’s public disavowals, KTSP is sticking by their story.
“St. Paul Police held a news conference to say our KSTP report was ‘inaccurate’ and that the two church leaders are not the ‘focus of an investigation,’” the station said. “But, they stopped short of saying our story was wrong.”
The station quoted former state prosecutor Matt Entenza, claiming he told them that “using words like ‘not the focus of an investigation’ and stopping short of saying the story was wrong, ‘probably means your sources are correct and the two men are most likely part of a broader investigation of obstruction of justice at the Archdiocese.’”
While the police maintain they have no reason to suspect the archdiocese was involved in any kind of cover-up, they have asked for people to step forward with allegations of abuse by “members of the Catholic Church.”
Police Commander Mary Nash held a press conference to solicit accusations, telling reporters, “based on this investigation and previous investigations, the St. Paul Police Department is seeking victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church.”
“We obviously have made calls for folks to come forward, for victims to come forward,” spokesman Padilla later said. “Some folks have courageously, bravely come forward to help tell their stories. We're looking into those.” He would not tell reporters how many people had come forward.
The archdiocese has pledged its full cooperation with any investigation into alleged abuse.
“The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is aware that the St. Paul Police have reopened their investigation into the Fr. Jon Shelley case,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “We will cooperate fully, as we did in the police’s previous 7-month investigation that found no evidence of child pornographic material.”
“We take very seriously matters of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy,” the statement said. “We encourage anyone who has been a victim of such sexual abuse to report it to police and to the Archdiocese.”