The former archbishop makes his first remarks since resigning in June. Glen Stubbe – Star TribuneI’ve blogged a few times about recently-resigned Twin Cities archbishop John Nienstedt and his various specious behaviors. These were significant enough that — at his own direction — his archdiocese launched an investigation into his dealings a year and a half ago. He ended up trying to derail it once he learned it was going places he’d preferred it wouldn’t (WebCite cached version).

Well, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, it seems Nienstedt had more than a little reason to be embarassed by what that investigation had found (cached):

Former Archbishop John Nienstedt said he remains “dumbfounded” by the allegations of personal misconduct that emerged last year during an internal church investigation of his behavior — a report that the archdiocese now is considering making public.…

Commissioned by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the probe looked into claims that Nienstedt had engaged in behavior that was inappropriate for a priest. The Star Tribune has learned that investigators collected affidavits from priests, former seminarians and a former priest alleging actions, some dating to the Detroit area in the early 1980s, that range from inappropriate touching to visiting a gay nightclub.…

The archdiocese declined to answer questions about the investigation. Last year, it hired the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis to look into allegations of clergy misconduct involving Nienstedt and adults. The law firm’s work ended last summer, and the chancery hired Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Peter Wold to complete the probe.

Greene Espel has publicly disputed claims by the archdiocese that Nienstedt did not intervene in the investigation.

The firm conducted interviews and collected affidavits, or sworn statements, from people who worked with or knew Nienstedt. The Star Tribune has confirmed that five Catholic priests, one former priest and a former seminarian were among those who provided affidavits.

In one affidavit, a priest in Harrison Township, Mich., reported seeing Nienstedt at a gay nightclub in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit in the 1980s. “I recall seeing John — and there is no doubt in my mind that it was him based on my prior interactions with him — at the Happy Tap,” the Rev. Lawrence Ventline wrote in his affidavit. “He appeared to wave me off as I was coming — and I backed off because I did not want impose on him.”

Another affidavit from a Michigan priest said that Nienstedt pulled up to his car in an area frequented by gay men one December in the early 1980s and asked him if he had any “poppers,” an inhalant used by gay men to enhance sexual pleasure. When he got into Nienstedt’s car, and Nienstedt recognized him as a former student, he changed the subject, the priest told the Star Tribune.

A former seminarian at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, James Heathcott, also filed an affidavit. He said that Nienstedt — who was the seminary’s rector — expelled him after he refused an invitation to join Nienstedt and two other seminarians on a private weekend at a ski chalet in the late 1980s.

In addition, the Star Tribune obtained a 2014 letter sent by a former student at Sacred Heart Seminary to former auxiliary bishop Lee Piché, who oversaw the Nienstedt investigation, alleging that Nienstedt touched his buttocks after a dinner together one night between 2000 and 2002. Joseph Rangitsch said he protested and Nienstedt replied he could “make things unpleasant for you very quickly.”

As I said, and as the Star Trib reports, Nienstedt categorically denies it all, and offered excuses for some of these encounters, which oddly enough tends to lend them a little credibility. It’s odd that such a vehement anti-gay crusader might turn out to have been a closeted gay … or, maybe it’s not so strange after all, given that it seems to happen now and again.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune.

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