Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's Time for Archbishop Nienstedt to Resign

UPDATED: April 25, 2014

Yesterday, Minnesota Public Radio released video and transcripts of testimony given by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt during a sworn deposition on April 2, 2014. (To read the full transcript of the Archbishop's deposition, click either here or here.)

A spokesperson for Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told MPR News that investigators and prosecutors are reviewing the information contained in the archbishop's deposition as part of their ongoing investigation into the archdiocese's handling of clergy sex abuse cases. Similarly, St. Paul Police spokesperson Howie Padilla said that police "will be examining this new information to determine its value to our current criminal investigations."

Astoundingly inept

Regardless of any possible criminal charges resulting from the archbishop's deposition, one thing is painfully clear: Throughout his deposition, John Nienstedt comes across as astoundingly inept as an organizational leader – and, in my view, a spiritual one as well.

Here's part of MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran's story on the archbishop's deposition:

Archbishop John Nienstedt acknowledged in sworn testimony that he took steps to hide information on abusive priests and never provided complete files to police, according to a transcript released today.

Nienstedt said he had followed the advice of a subordinate [then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough] that he keep no written notes of certain discussions, in case those notes should later become public in legal proceedings. He said that he didn't publicly disclose which priests were being monitored, and that he relied on others to keep parish trustees informed.

Nienstedt made the remarks in a four-hour deposition taken April 2 as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The man alleges the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on accused priests secret. The man's attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, argued that the deposition could provide evidence of a pattern of deception by the archdiocese.

. . . Nienstedt has been under intense scrutiny for months since an MPR News investigation found that he failed to report possible sex crimes to police. Several priests have publicly criticized Nienstedt's leadership, and at least one has called for his resignation.

The Star Tribune's coverage of Nienstedt's deposition notes the following:

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he was not aware that known child sex abusers were working in various capacities at the archdiocese during his tenure, nor did he discipline anyone at the chancery for mistakes that allowed the abusive priests to continue working, a court deposition released Tuesday revealed.

Nienstedt often described himself as out of the loop on issues of child sex abuse, according to sworn testimony taken April 2, part of a lawsuit by an alleged victim of a priest.

When Nienstedt became archbishop in 2008, he said he had a briefing with key archdiocese officials about clergy abuse. He testified he didn’t remember any names of abusive priests mentioned at the time, how many were being monitored, and even the names of the archdiocese officials present.

Nienstedt said he did not request the list of “credibly accused” priests that all dioceses are required to maintain. Nor did he press for parishes to be told about the presences of clergy with histories of child sexual misconduct, who were being monitored.

“I believe we felt that we could monitor the situation without making a total disclosure to the people,” testified Nienstedt, who added that he no longer feels that way.

In her MPR News piece, Madeleine Baran quotes from the deposition transcript in reporting on Nienstedt's mind-boggling lack of awareness regarding clergy sexual abuse within the archdiocese.

Throughout much of the deposition, [attorney Jeff] Anderson appeared incredulous that Nienstedt would not have paid more attention to the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

Nienstedt said McDonough talked about the priests being monitored by the archdiocese for misconduct.

"Who were those individuals?" Anderson asked.

"I can't recall all the names right now," Nienstedt said.

"Why didn't you write it down?" Anderson asked.

"It didn't occur to me at the time to do so," Nienstedt replied.

"At the time, didn't it seem like one of the most important things you needed to do as archbishop, knowing the crisis in America of Catholic clergy abusing kids, to know who in this archdiocese had been accused and who are being monitored?" Anderson asked.

Nienstedt did not directly answer the question.

"The Archbishop" by Steve Sack (Star Tribune, April 23, 2014).

"Put on the spot" – and that's the problem

In sharing his thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt's deposition, local blogger Terry Nelson writes: "The poor Archbishop looks and sounds like someone 'put on the spot' – and he was."

That Terry isn't fazed by a bishop in today's church being "put on the spot" over the issue of clergy sex abuse is as mind-boggling as Archbishop Nienstedt's own woeful lack of awareness, as demonstrated by his deposition. How, as Catholics, have we come to tolerate such a terribly low bar when it comes to the caliber of our clerical leaders?

Terry prays that God will give Archbishop Nienstedt strength – strength to endure the ongoing "scrutiny and defamation." I see no evidence of defamation, and why on earth should anyone in a position of authority be free from scrutiny?

I too pray that God may give Archbishop Nienstedt strength – strength to do the right thing and resign.

I mentioned earlier that the archbishop's deposition shows that he is inept as both an organizational leader and a spiritual one. I stand by this claim. His deposition makes it clear that Nienstedt has failed the people of the archdiocese as an organizational leader. This is demonstrated by his lack of awareness of, interest in, and thus oversight of a range of issues relating to the clergy sex abuse crisis as it has been manifested in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. This failure also shows a lack of moral and spiritual leadership . . . and in John Nienstedt's case, in a very specific way.

Nienstedt's "shadow"

Let me attempt to explain what I mean, and let me start my highlighting the words and insights of author and psychologist John Neafsey that I shared this past Easter Sunday. These words and insights relate to the Jungian concept of "the shadow" – those parts of ourselves that, says Neafsey, "don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, our idea of what a 'good' or 'holy' person is like." In talking further about the shadow dimension of the human psyche, Neafsey notes that:

[P]roblems . . . develop when we get caught up in . . . denying or repressing the shadow side of ourselves. Defensive denial of our inner reality reflects a lack of psychological honesty. When it is based on pretense and denial, being a "good person" can also mean acting as a kind of false self. If we are too defensive, too controlled, too good all the time, we lose touch with our authentic feelings and all of the vital life energies they contain. When we are out of touch with [for instance] sexual passions, our capacity for authentic emotional and spiritual passion can become blocked.

Unconsciousness of our shadow also makes us more prone to hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes toward other people. . . . We end up criticizing in others what we are actually ashamed of and afraid to look at in ourselves.

From the very start of his tenure as archbishop (in fact, even well before he was appointed coadjutor archbishop) John Nienstedt has been obsessed with demonizing consensual sexual relationships between same-sex couples and working to ensure that such relationships are in no way legally acknowledged or recognized. In terms of the latter, he has failed completely. The anti-gay "marriage amendment," which he tirelessly championed, was defeated and, shortly after, both the Minnesota House and Senate passed marriage equality legislation. Same-sex couples now have the same civil right to marry as opposite-sex couples. During the often contentious marriage amendment "battle," many Minnesota Catholics opposed Nienstedt's anti-gay activism. In 2013 they celebrated the victory of marriage equality in the civil sphere.

Here's the crux of the matter: The time and energy that Nienstedt expended on demonizing gay relationships and attempting to deny such relationships legal recognition in civil law, could and should have been focused instead on creating a local church reflective of gospel values, including confronting and dealing with the many issues relating to clergy sex abuse within the archdiocese; issues, which Nienstedt openly admits in his deposition, he was "out of the loop" about.

I think Nienstedt's cluelessness about so much of the external crisis around him stems from his inner unconsciousness of his "shadow," and I believe that Nienstedt's shadow may well be to do with issues related to his own homosexuality and its integration into his life. Remember, according to Neafsey, the shadow is comprised of those parts of ourselves that "don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, [and] our idea of what a 'good' or 'holy' person is like."

It's also important to note, especially when we are talking about a situation of repressed homosexuality, that "the word shadow does not necessarily mean that these aspects of ourselves are bad or sinful, but rather suggests that some dimensions of our inner experience . . . may not comfortably fit with the kind of self we aspire to be in the light of day."

As has already been mentioned in relation to Nienstedt's obsessive and misguided focus on same-sex relationships, people who are unconsciousness of their shadow are more prone to judgmental attitudes toward others. They often project their shame, fear, and anger about the reality they are denying and/or repressing out onto those who are successfully integrating into their lives this same reality.

Also, credible studies suggest that those who harbor and/or express negative feelings and hostility toward gay people may themselves be struggling with suppressed feelings of same-sex desire. (See, for example, here, here and here.)

I believe that John Nienstedt has failed to prevent his own inner struggles and issues from distorting and misplacing his priorities as both the organizational and spiritual leader of the archdiocese. Such failure demonstrates a profound and tragic lack of psychological honesty (i.e., the taking of responsibility for the shadow dimensions of ourselves) and has played, I believe, a significant role in his divisive anti-gay activism and in his scandalous lack of awareness and action with regard the clergy sex abuse crisis in our local church.

Nienstedt's situation is not unique. I've written previously about how (closeted) gay men in the church's clerical caste are "giving the rest of us a bad name."

But yesterday's disclosures regarding Nienstedt's disposition bring the issue very much into the here and now. Accordingly, for his own good and the good of the archdiocese, Archbishop Nienstedt must resign.

4/25/14 Updates:
Former Top Church Official Kevin McDonough Disputes Archbishop's Clergy Abuse Testimony – Madeleine Baran (Minnestota Public Radio News, April 24, 2014).
Archbishop Nienstedt's Deposition Draws Mixed Reviews – Jean Hopfensperger and Chao Xiong (Star Tribune, April 24, 2014).
Abusive Priests Allowed to Keep Working, McDonough Testifies – Jean Hopfensperger and Chao Xiong (Star Tribune, April 24, 2014).
He Said, He Said – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, April 25, 2014).
Ex-Archdiocese Deputy: Clergy Abusers Given Jobs, Financial Assistance – Jean Hopfensperger and Chao Xiong (Star Tribune, April 25, 2014).

Recommended Off-site Links:
Nienstedt Admits Archdiocese Hid Info on Abusive Priests – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, April 22, 2014).
St. Paul Archbishop Claims He Was Unaware of Most Child Sex Abuse Issues – Jean Hoppensperger and Chao Xiong (Star Tribune, April 22, 2014).
Nienstedt Deposed – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, April 22, 2014).
Statement Regarding Nienstedt Testimony in Sworn Deposition – Eric Fought (, April 22, 2014).
Twin Cities Task Force Reports 'Serious Shortcomings' in Archdiocesan Policies – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2014).
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough" – Bob Beutel (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 10, 2013).
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the WoundThe Progressive Catholic Voice (November 5, 2013).
Homophobes Might Be Hidden Homosexuals – Jeanna Bryner (Scientific America, April 10, 2012).
Homophobic? Maybe You're Gay – Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan (New York Times, April 27, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Time for a Fresh Start in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues
The Journal of James Curtis: Part 7 – The Note
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
Thanking You, Archbishop
Quote of the Day – August 23, 2012
Casey Michel on Archbishop Nienstedt's "Crusade Against Gay Marriage"
It's a Scandal
PCV Publishes Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Directives to Priests
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt
What Part of Jesus' Invitation to "Be Not Afraid" Don't the Bishops Get?
The Talk of the Archdiocese
Interesting Times Ahead
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt's "Learning Curve": A Suggested Trajectory


Mary Lynn Murphy said...

This is an astute, courageous, and very timely article that speaks for so many of us. Thanks for posting it Michael.

Jeremy said...

In my mind, John Nienstedt is now a usurper to the title of Archbishop. He represents not a single aspect of Christ. When will he get the hint that now is the time for him to leave?

Terri said...

"Here's the crux of the matter: The time and energy that Nienstedt expended on demonizing gay relationships and attempting to deny such relationships legal recognition in civil law, could and should have been focused instead on creating a local church reflective of gospel values,..."
YES! And in addition to time and energy that he expended, so much money as well!

Anonymous said...

This poor excuse of a man apparently deserves to be criminally charged for his actions and inactions. He has hopefully earned an indictment and a perp walk.

Upon conviction perhaps he will have some time in a real prison to contemplate his sins and crimes. In this way he may serve his brothers in high places, as an example of what they ought not do.

Bob Schwiderski, SNAP State Director said...

Well done article and links Michael. The survivor/supporter community and many in the pews are thankful.