Documents detail sex, harassment complaints against Nienstedt

Laura Yuen · Jul 29, 2016 MPR News 

A Twin Cities priest's summer trip with John Nienstedt was about to get excruciatingly uncomfortable.

The priest had joined the then-bishop of New Ulm, Minn., on a visit to Nienstedt's second home, not far from Lake Huron in Michigan. It was July 2004. At the time, the 37-year-old man considered Nienstedt, 20 years his senior, a close platonic friend.

One night, after the two men attended a private event near Detroit, the priest offered to drive the roughly 60 miles home. Nienstedt had drunk too much, he figured.

In the car, the priest would later recount to investigators, Nienstedt spoke affectionately and placed his hand on the priest's neck. The bishop then began to massage it, according to the priest.

"I felt extremely awkward and did not know what to do," he said, according to a document released by Ramsey County last week. The priest considered the gesture an unwelcome sexual advance.

The man, who is no longer a priest, detailed the incident in a sworn statement he provided to the archdiocese's private investigation into claims of inappropriate conduct by Nienstedt, the former leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

A trove of documents released last week by Ramsey County prosecutors as part of a legal settlement with the Twin Cities archdiocese shows a pattern of alleged sexual harassment and retribution by Nienstedt. The documents include a Ramsey County investigator's files, which draw heavily from sworn statements, as well as internal church memos that summarize complaints by people both sworn and not.

In an internal memo in 2014, a church official described the claims against Nienstedt as alleging unwelcome sexual advances toward other men, improper interactions with seminarians and young priests, and career reprisals for those who didn't reciprocate the advances.

Nienstedt has steadfastly denied the accusations, calling them "absolutely and entirely false." He maintains he is a heterosexual man who's been celibate his entire life.

"I have never solicited...


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