A memo released in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis abuse case suggests the Vatican ordered an investigation into former Archbishop John Nienstedt be shelved.
An internal church memo written by priest and lawyer Rev. Dan Griffith was among the many documents released by the Ramsey County Attorney John Choi – and implicates the Vatican's former U.S. emissary in a cover-up over the former archbishop's alleged sexual misconduct.
The 2014 memo concerns an external investigation commissioned by the archdiocese into Nienstedt, relating to allegations of sexual impropriety dating back years.
It claims the Vatican's then-representative in Washington D.C., the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Carlo Vigano, ordered the archdiocese tell the lawyers it had hired to "quickly interview Archbishop Nienstedt and wrap up the investigation," and not pursue any more leads.
The memo was written to former auxiliary bishop Lee Piché and bishop Andrew Cozzens, who had both flown to D.C. to express their concerns about Nienstedt.
Vigano's order is said to have come after he had a conversation with Nienstedt in which the archbishop "may have convinced the Nuncio that the allegations against him were false and part of a conspiracy."
Cozzens and Piché objected to the order, writing to the Nuncio that it would "rightly be seen as a cover-up," a stance backed by Rev. Griffiths.
Vigano later responded by telling the pair to take back the letter they had sent to the Nuncio, "and destroy it."
At the time, investigators were pursuing claims of sexual misconduct by Nienstedt with priests and a member of the Swiss Guard in Rome, the memo shows.
"What has unfolded in the face of compelling evidence amounts to a good old fashioned coverup to preserve power and avoid scandal and accountability," Griffiths wrote.
Criminal charges against the archdiocese were dropped on Wednesday after it admitted it failed to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer.
Archbishop Nienstedt and Curtis Wehmeyer
Nienstedt hired Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel in early 2014 with the goal of "clearing his name" amid allegations of impropriety that went back years. One of the 24 leads they were following concerned the "social relationship" he had with Curtis Wehmeyer.
Griffiths told Green Espel of his concern about the relationship and its impact on how Nienstedt handled Wehmeyer, who was later convicted of molesting two boys in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin and imprisoned in 2010.
"In that memo I included concern that Archbishop Nienstedt may have had a social relationship with Fr. Curtis Weymeyer, which may have affected his judgment regarding Weymeyer' s past misconduct," Griffiths wrote.
As MPR News describes, top archdiocese leaders had been aware of Wehmeyer's sexual misconduct for nearly a decade, but kept him in the ministry.
Nienstedt was being investigated after statements from priests who alleged he had previously sexually harassed them and made unwelcome advances.
It was reported that last year that Nienstedt had taken steps to limit the investigation into himself, and the documents released Wednesday suggest the Vatican may have been a part of these efforts.
On Wednesday, Nienstedt told MPR he stands by previous statements he has made denying the allegations against him, reiterating that he is "a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life," and denied covering up sexual abuse.