John Nienstedt, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in St. Paul Minnesota, is stepping down amid allegations that he inappropriately touched a young boy in 2009. Nienstedt, who has been a vocal and unyielding opponent of marriage equality in Minnesota, announced his voluntary departure from the position following the launch of an official police investigation that began on Monday.
No stranger to controversy, Nienstedt has been at the center of other allegations, unrelated to these recent accusations of touching, which claim he took part in a church cover up of sexual abuse and possession of child pornography by other priests in his diocese. The investigation into these matters has already resulted in the arrest and jailing of one priest and continues on amid Nienstedt’s stepping down as Archbishop.
Throughout his tenure as head of the St. Paul diocese, Nienstedt has established himself as an enemy of the LGBTQ community, often including anti-gay passages into mass prayers and claiming in public statements, that “Satan” was the cause and originator of the marriage equality movement. These and other anti-LGBTQ proclamations and statements, which many have labeled “spiritual bullying,” were officially endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI, the controversial predecessor for the current Pope, Francis Assisi.
Advocates for marriage equality are hailing the Archbishop’s departure with muted enthusiasm, recognizing that it will do little to undo the damage caused both by his discriminatory rhetoric and alleged aiding in the covering up of child sex abuse by church officials working under his administration. The alleged touching incident which spurred Nienstedt’s resignation was reported to police by the archdiocese itself almost immediately after they were made aware of it.
Though he has denied having done anything wrong, Nienstedt’s previous inaction when shown direct evidence of sexual abuse of children by priests within his diocese, remains a damning piece of evidence. Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer appointed in 2008 to oversee church records involving sex abuses by priests was among the first to raise the matters to Nienstedt directly.
Following her discovery of child pornography possessed by one of Nienstedt’s clergy members and numerous attempts to expose the routine violations and cover ups in play, Haselberger attempted to force the Church’s hand by sending some of the illegal pornographic images obtained during her investigation directly to Nienstedt with the urging to take immediate action.
Following Nienstedt’s continued inaction, Haselberger made the matters public on her own and condemned Nienstedt, telling NPR that following her forwarding of the materials to him directly that “The Archbishop never called the police.”
As the investigation into Nienstedt gets underway, many in the LGBTQ community, as well as Catholic faithful in Minnesota and throughout the country, await to see just how far the depths of alleged depravity and hypocritical bigotry run in this evolving story of abuse and corruption of faith in the church.