DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Archbishop John Nienstedt, who resigned in disgrace in 2015 after evidence he protected a convicted homosexual predator, is openly socializing with Detroit clergy.
In photos posted July 11 on Auxiliary Bp. Donald Hanchon's public Facebook page, Nienstedt — the disgraced former head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, and a longtime friend of Detroit's Abp. Allen Vigneron — can be seen chatting, laughing and eating with Hanchon, Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny and Msgr. Daniel Trapp, along with others connected to the Detroit archdiocese.
"Invited a bunch of our friends over for a baarbeque [sic] to celebrate my friend Msgr. Pat Halfpenny's transition from St. Paul on the Lake, Grosse Pointe Farms to...Director for Priestly Mission for the priests of the Archdiocese," reads the Facebook caption. "Lots of GREAT FOOD and even greater laughter and stories! Congrats to Pat...and thanks to all! Friends make every one of life's steps better!"
After a Vatican investigation, Nienstedt was stepped down in 2015 as archbishop for failing to report allegations of child sex abuse by his alleged homosexual lover, Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, who wound up serving five years' prison time for his crimes of sexual assault and possession of child pornography.
Nienstedt's archdiocese has the distinction of being the first in U.S. history to be criminally prosecuted for sex abuse cover-up.
Church Militant obtained nearly 1,000 pages of police reports, affidavits, witness interviews and more from the Ramsey County Prosecutor's Office revealing a disturbing picture of homosexual corruption — spearheaded by Nienstedt, who outwardly gave the appearance of orthodoxy while apparently leading a double life.
Nienstedt and Vigneron have a 50-year friendship, attending seminary together, working together as rector and vice rector, respectively, at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, and consecrated auxiliary bishops together in 1996.
Hanchon and Halfpenny are also longtime friends of Nienstedt. As Jay McNally, former editor of the archdiocesan paper, reported:
Vigneron today leads a small group of ideologues who were his seminary classmates and have risen to high levels of influence in the Church. Vigneron's lifelong network includes classmates and his best friend in high school, Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, disgraced Abp. John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bp. Don Hanchon.
An April 2014 memo by Fr. Dan Griffith, the archdiocesan delegate for Safe Environment for the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, states:
Allegations regarding Abp. Nienstedt (JN) stated in the sworn statements include: JN seen at a gay bar in Windsor, Canada, JN cruising a Detroit park known for such activity; JN seen at a gay video store in Detroit; alleged sexual harassment by JN of a Detroit priest; 3 contemporaneous reports of the alleged sexual harassment by JN of a Detroit priest; allegations of reprisals by JN against a Detroit priest; concerns raised about JN’s interaction with seminarians in Detroit; alleged sexual harassment by JN of a former St. Paul priest; a contemporaneous report of the alleged sexual harassment by JN of a former St. Paul priest; allegations of reprisals by JN against a former St. Paul priest; concerns raised by a college seminary rector and another St Paul priest regarding JN’s interaction with seminarians in St Paul; allegations of excessive drinking by JN.
Griffith cited "reprisals in response to those who do not reciprocate the alleged advances."
"I find the following compelling: nearly everyone interviewed has been willing to back up their testimony in sworn statements and all of the affiants were found to be credible by investigators," according to Griffith.
A separate Vatican investigation confirmed such reprisals. James Heathcott, a former seminarian, signed an affidavit stating he was expelled from Detroit's seminary within 72 hours after refusing Nienstedt's sexual advances. Several other priests and seminarians also signed affidavits testifying to Nienstedt's homosexual misconduct.
A Detroit priest and open homosexual, Fr. Larry Ventline, accused of raping an 11-year-old boy, was among those who testified about Nienstedt.
In 2015, Ventline signed an affidavit claiming he saw Nienstedt in a gay bar in Windsor, Ontario.
"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," Ventline testified. "He appeared to wave me off as I was coming — and I backed off because I did not want to impose on him."
Nienstedt denied the claims at the time. He also denies the allegations of homosexual conduct. Asked why a number of people claim he's homosexual, Nienstedt said in 2014, "I have no idea."
Documents also reveal Nienstedt gave Wehmeyer — eventually convicted and imprisoned for child sex abuse — preferential treatment, keeping him in active ministry for years in spite of multiple complaints of Wehmeyer's homosexual predation.
The Detroit archdiocese seems untroubled by the evidence, with Vigneron allowing Nienstedt to take part in Sacred Heart Major Seminary's Presbyteral Mass last year. Photos posted on the seminary's Facebook page from June 19, 2018 show Nienstedt concelebrating the Mass, standing in the front next to the altar, as well as processing in with other bishops.
Meanwhile, the Detroit archdiocese is trying to raise $190 million in its current fundraising campaign, with nearly $20 million of that money going to CCS Fundraising, which is handling the campaign.
A number of Detroit parishioners have said they won't give in light of current scandals engulfing the archdiocese, while Detroit priests have also been critical, voicing objections during a private meeting with archdiocesan leadership last month. They expressed anger at being asked to raise 130% of the annual offertory, only to hand half of it over to the chancery for unspecified purposes. Some called the goal unreasonable and characterized it as a money grab, while another asked why the archdiocese would start asking for money when laity are still "hurting" from the sex abuse crisis overwhelming the Church.
None of the evidence against Nienstedt seems problematic to Hanchon either, who openly flaunts his friendship with Nienstedt on social media.
An Aug. 6, 2018 photo of Nienstedt posted on Hanchon's Facebook page features the caption:
I'm proud to say that these brothers have been a part of my "support system" as a Priest Fraternity since...1975! Here's a recent photo: Archbishop John Nienstedt; Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny; Fr. Mike Molnar; Fr. Ron DeHondt; Fr. Ted Parker; Bishop Don Hanchon. Two brothers have gone to God--Fr. Paul Lederman and Fr. Ed Farrell. The Fraternity has been an unqualified blessing!
Church Militant has previously reported on Hanchon, known as the "Ukelele Bishop" for his practice of strumming the ukelele during youth Masses.
He attempted to play the tune "This Little Light of Mine" on the ukelele in May 2016 during the Confirmation Mass at Assumption Grotto, a parish known as a bastion of orthodoxy and reverent liturgy in Detroit. His attempt was quickly drowned out by the organist, who played music more appropriate to the setting.