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Reports detail derailed investigation into former archbishop Nienstedt

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Five days after the resignation of John Nienstedt from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, new reports detail an internal investigation into the archbishop that was abruptly halted.

In a comprehensive story published Thursday, MPR reports on the investigation – which was authorized by Nienstedt in early 2014 with the goal of clearing his name.

It was handled by Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel, the Washington Post reported in July 2014, and was prompted by allegations Nienstedt had inappropriate relationships with priests, seminarians and other men.

Nienstedt, in a statement released on July 1, called the claims "absolutely and entirely false," noting the allegations were all from his time before joining the Twin Cities archdiocese, included nothing illegal, and didn't involve "minors or lay members of the faithful."

But according to MPR's new report, nearly three months earlier, Nienstedt's top advisers received a series of sworn affidavits collected by the law firm, which accused Nienstedt of inappropriate behavior - including sexual advances toward at least two priests.

The advisers all agreed he should resign, and the archdiocese's two auxiliary bishops then traveled to Washington to relay that message to the pope's ambassador, MPR reports.

Shortly after the bishops returned to Minnesota, however, the investigation of Nienstedt was curtailed and its focus was significantly narrowed – an interference MPR says multiple sources trace back to Nienstedt. Click here to read MPR's full report.

The Star Tribune has a story that includes the same claim.

The paper reports "several" former priests and students of the church levied allegations of improper sexual conduct at Nienstedt during the course of the investigation.

In one of the affidavits, the Star Tribune says a former member of the seminary declined an invitation from Nienstedt to go on a private ski weekend with him, something the man felt was "totally inappropriate." The man says within days, Nienstedt expelled him from the seminary – a decision the man says was retribution for not going on the trip.

The results of the investigaton have not been made public. MPR News reports Nienstedt authorized a second investigation by a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney in August, although no other information about the nature of that investigation has been released.

Both MPR and the Star Tribune say Nienstedt could not be reached for comment.

Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche both resigned from the archdiocese on Monday, 10 days after Ramsey County filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children from an abusive priest.

Pope Francis has named Archbishop Bernard Hebda as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until the appointment of a new archbishop.

Hebda is the coadjutor archbishop of the Newark, N.J. Archdiocese, and is meant to succeed the current archbishop there when he retires in 2016.

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