Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, was rewarded for his cover-up of sexually abusive priests by being appointed to a prestigious Vatican post in Rome. Bernard Law should have been sentenced to a few years in an American jail.

Under a new pope, the clock is ticking for wayward covert-up bishops, however. And there is quite a list to choose from. Perhaps we should hang their photos in our church vestibules, if not the local post office.

Since I am partial to my native state of Michigan, I would begin with John Clayton Nienstedt, the eighth and current Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A Motown boy, he attended and was later rector of my first alma mater: Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.

John Clayton has a thing about gays. Shortly after becoming Twin Cities Archbishop, he discontinued the gay pride prayer service that was held at St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis. John had earlier described homosexuality as a “result of psychological trauma” that “must be understood in the context of other human disorders: envy, malice, greed, etc.” In December 2013, Archbishop Nienstedt voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry while police investigated an allegation that he touched a boy on his buttocks. In March 2014, he returned to public ministry after an extensive investigation found no buttocks-touching evidence against him. So much for a bit of general background……

The archbishop is on my list, however, not because of his gay paranoia but his history of sexual abuse cover-ups.

Archbishop John Nienstedt maintained a relatively low profile on clergy sexual abuse until early October 2013, when he began re-arranging archdiocesan deck-chairs, reacting to charges of covering-up evidence of child pornography on a priest’s computer inside his own chancery. The accusation came from attorney Jennifer Haselberger, former chancellor for canonical affairs for the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese. She had earlier stated that the archdiocese had overlooked for nearly a decade the sexual compulsions of another priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, and did not warn parishioners. Wehmeyer is now in prison, convicted of sexually abusing two boys and possession of child pornography.

Nienstedt, who came to St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2008, said he had no knowledge of any cover-ups during his administration. Jennifer Haselberger, had warned him in 2009, however, not to promote a priest with a known history of sexual misconduct. Nienstedt reacted by making him pastor of the parish, where had had already been parish administrator. The priest then continued to abuse children in that parish.

Haselberger resigned because of the archdiocesan leader’s refusal to act on her allegations of cover-ups which she said had made it impossible for her to continue in her position with any sense of personal integrity.

Having lost confidence in him, lay people and priests in the archdiocese began to call for Nienstedt’s resignation. St. Paul Attorney Jeff Anderson, well-known for representing victims of sexual abuse, accused the archdiocese of a longstanding and ongoing cover-up of child sex abuse, going back to when Harry Flynn was the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop.

Nienstedt’s top deputy, Father Peter Laird, stepped down as vicar general of the archdiocese in October 2013; and a couple weeks after that former Archbishop Harry Flynn resigned as chair of the board of trustees at the University of St. Thomas. Peter Laird had also told Archbishop Nienstedt that he too should resign.

More serious accusations emerged in November 2014, concerning Clarence Vavra, a priest and an admitted serial pedophile. For almost 19 years top ranking archdiocesan officials knew that Vavra admitted sexually assaulting kids. For at least a year and a half (possibly longer), Archbishop John Nienstedt knew about Vavra’s admitted sexual abuse of children. For years, due to the callousness of Nienstedt and others, this admitted predator priest continued to live and work with little or no supervision. He was sent from parish to parish, and therefore given, at each new location, a fresh group of children to potentially molest.

On Wednesday April 2, 2014, Archbishop John Nienstedt testified about his knowledge of clergy sexual abuse. Nienstedt testified that his former vicar general, Kevin McDonough, was aware of the details of wayward clergy while he was not. Nienstedt’s four-hour deposition came to an abrupt end, surprisingly however, with the archbishop walking out when asked to turn over the archdiocese’s files of credibly accused priests.

In his own deposition, two weeks after Nienstedt’s, Kevin McDonough denied having a conversation with Archbishop Nienstedt in which he instructed the archbishop not to write down sensitive information – a conversation Nienstedt, during his deposition, said happened.

– Sir Walter Scott


9 thoughts on “The Clock is Ticking for the Archbishop

    1. Thanks Magy. It is always good to hear from you. I absolutely cannot understand how a “man of God” could sit back and allow children to be raped and abused by other “men of God.” It is more than disgusting….

  1. … how many “safe sinecures” are left to put these guys in Rome (out of the way of U.S, prosecutors) ??? … not knowing Nienstedt, I’ll not comment on him, but I did meet and spend some time with Law, when he was the newly consecrated bishop of Springfield-Cape Giradeau in Missouri … a young 42-year, svelte, athletic bishop …

    the Supreme Court’s January 22, 1963 Roe and Doe abortion decisions almost immediately resulted in literally dozens of “Jane Does” filing lawsuits against Catholic hospitals seeking to force these hospitals to allow abortions. As the newly installed legal counsel for the Catholic Hospital Association I found myself jetting back and forth to court hearing after court hearing all over the country (something like 81 of them over the next 18 months) … and one of them involved St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

    I flew into Springfield the evening before and was met by the Diocesan legal counsel (also the hospital’s) and was told we would be having dinner with Bishop Law to discuss the matter. We arrived at the bishop’s residence (a large comfortable older home in a nice upscale neighborhood … but far from mansion or grand) … walked up and rang the doorbell. Who met us? The bishop himself in a sweat suit and running shoes. Very apologetic, Bishop Law told us he had forgotten that it was his cook’s night out and had just returned from his afternoon run. He had some pasta on the stove and would mix a salad’

    To say the least, I was taken in by his appearance of “normality” and actual humility … so thus it was that I was aghast at the disclosures 20+ years later of this heavily obese Cardinal resigning in disgrace over the priestly abuse cover-ups. What had happened to this young, I thought idealistic bishop, so full of vim and vigor … does the purple corrupt? … the cardinalite red? … Where and how did the change take place ???

    1. Once upon a time, Bernard Law was a hopeful sign, as you will read some day in my Jean Jadot book. Something happened to him along the way…I call it the temptation and seduction of Romanitas.

  2. I’m in John Clayton’s Archdiocese, and due to his loving, on mission leadership, am no longer a practicing Catholic. Yay, John!

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