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Released in 2016 after the Star Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request, the cache of 980 pages shows the police investigation and witness interviews involving Nienstedt's role in the case against Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, who served five years in prison for three counts of criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. Wehmeyer was also sued by the family of a boy he allegedly abused.
The documents reveal much about Nienstedt's own behavior. An April 2014 memo written by Fr. Dan Griffith, the archdiocesan delegate for Safe Environment, outlined the allegations against the archbishop:
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 said those allegations suggest a troubling pattern of behavior that included "alleged unwelcome advances; inappropriate interaction with seminarians; and reprisals in response to those who do not reciprocate the alleged advances." He noted that the investigation had not been completed and "they have at least 24 additional leads to pursue."
"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.
Based on Nienstedt's mishandling of the Wehmeyer case, in June 2015, in a historic first, John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for "failing to protect children and contributing to the unspeakable harm" to Wehmeyer's victims.
It was the first time in the history of the United States that an entire archdiocese had been criminally charged. Those charges resulted in the highly publicized resignation of Nienstedt and auxiliary Bp. Lee Piché in 2015.
The documents obtained by Church Militant reveal that Wehmeyer enjoyed preferential treatment that began under Abp. Flynn, who led the archdiocese from 1995–2008.
Several witnesses told police that Flynn paid special attention to Wehmeyer starting in 1995, when he overruled an assessment that Wehmeyer was not a good candidate for ordination and approved his admission into the seminary.
In a memo dated January 1996, Flynn admitted he had been seeing Wehmeyer every six weeks for about a year and wanted the vocations office to proceed with his application.
Wehmeyer was ordained by Flynn in 2001, and by 2004, the archdiocese was already receiving complaints about his predatory behavior. Wehmeyer spent two weeks at St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, a scandal-ridden clergy rehabilitation center, and was ordered to attend Sexaholics Anonymous after he made sexual advances towards two men, 19 and 20 years of age, in a bookstore.
The archdiocese added Wehmeyer to the diocese's Promoter of Ministerial Standards program (POMS), meant to monitor the behavior of troubled priests. By 2006, it was clear the monitoring was insufficient. Wehmeyer was spotted by police cruising in a park known for homosexual encounters and was reported to the archdiocese. Wehmeyer also began taking young boys camping and sexually abused one of them.
In spite of continuing misconduct, the archdiocese assigned Wehmeyer to be parochial administrator at Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul.
After Nienstedt was installed as archbishop in 2008, Wehmeyer's special treatment continued. He was allowed to stay in active ministry despite numerous complaints from parishioners about his behavior and anger issues and boundary violations, resulting in parishioners leaving.
Numerous laity, priests and chancery staff notified Flynn and Nienstedt and then-auxiliary Bp. Lee Piché, but their concerns were dismissed and Wehmeyer was promoted to pastor at Blessed Sacrament.
According to witness testimony, Nienstedt had a special relationship with Wehmeyer and with at least two other priests, believed to have been homosexual in nature. Multiple witnesses confirmed that Nienstedt and Wehmeyer would meet in civilian clothing at either the chancery or at Wehmeyer's parish. One witness claimed he saw Nienstedt leaving Wehmeyer's rectory at 6:30 in the morning.
Jennifer Haselberger, chancellor for canonical affairs and a canon lawyer, gave a scathing 107-page affidavit testifying to what she claimed was a massive cover-up by the archdiocese. In her statement to Ramsey County investigator Eugine Leatherman, she said the diocese did not follow its own procedures, saying the written plans for abusive priests were not being followed.
In an interview with TwinCities.com, Haselberger explained that Fr. Peter Laird, vicar general, outright refused to read the reports on abusive clergy.
"I literally followed Fr. Laird out of the building one evening with those highlighted documents in my hands, saying that if he didn't have time to read the whole documents, he could at least read the highlighted remarks," she said. "He refused."
Such was the case when the archdiocese began an investigation on Nienstedt. Among Fr. Griffith's concerns was Nienstedt's decision-making ability being compromised in situations that mirrored his misconduct. "A high-profile priest who was accused of an ongoing homosexual relationship with a man he was alleged to have met while cruising was given the rare opportunity to sit down with the archbishop to explain the allegation," Griffith wrote. "The investigation was abruptly closed before its completion."
In another case, Nienstedt went against the recommendations of his staff and incardinated a Wisconsin priest who had several reports of homosexual misconduct. Nienstedt's own secretary was arrested for solicitation, but Nienstedt advocated for his arrest record to be expunged.
"Given his past behaviors, Abp. Nienstedt may possibly be a threat to the safe environment of the archdiocese," Griffith wrote.
In a statement, Nienstedt denied having "an 'unusual social relationship' or really any social relationship" with Wehmeyer. "I had three meals with him over the course of three years."
He also denied all of the allegations over his alleged gay lifestyle and interest in seminarians. "I categorically deny all of those allegations, and I have never used my position to take advantage of anybody," Nienstedt said.
After Nienstedt and Bp. Piché resigned, the Ramsey County attorney dropped the charges in a deal that forced the archdiocese to publicly admit its failures and undergo progress reviews every six months for four years.
While the diocese's website sets forth information about periodic meetings with the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, the reports themselves are unavailable. None of the reports on the diocesan Safe Environment website have a functional link to the reports. They can, however, be found on the Ramsey County Attorney Office's website.
In the latest report from January 10, 2019, the archdiocese concluded, "We believe the archdiocese remains in substantial compliance with the Settlement Agreement."
The independent auditor's report, compiled by StoneBridge Business Partners, notes, "It appears that the archdiocese is substantially compliant with the terms of the Settlement Agreement for the period reviewed." This audit primarily reviews how well the archdiocese complies with recordkeeping regarding accused clergy.
The policies still allow the archdiocese to determine which allegations are credible and therefore reported to the police: "The archdiocese has made notification to law enforcement each time a credible allegation has been received. A credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is one that bears a semblance of truth and is not manifestly false or frivolous."
Church Militant has learned of at least four priests listed on the diocesan's monitoring program that are not listed on the list of credibly accused clergy.