Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him?


The Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis is under investigation for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men.

Well, for John C. Nienstedt it all appears to be unraveling. I take no pleasure in sharing the latest news about the Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, largely because I believe, based on observations and insights I share later in this post, that our brother John is a psycho-sexually stunted individual in need of professional help and heartfelt prayers. Hopefully he will get the help he needs in the aftermath of the current investigation, the findings of which could end his clerical "career." For as Grant Gallicho of Commonweal reports:

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being investigated for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men, according to the archbishop’s former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger. The investigation is being conducted by a law firm hired by the archdiocese. Nienstedt denies the allegations.

The investigation was spurred by information the archdiocese received late last year, according to another person with knowledge of the investigation. (This inquiry is not related to a December 2013 accusation that Nienstedt touched a boy’s buttocks during a confirmation photo shoot. The archbishop denied that allegation, and, following an investigation, the county prosecutor did not bring charges. Reportedly the case has been reopened.) Near the end of the year, it came to light that a former Twin Cities priest had accused Nienstedt of making unwanted sexual advances.

The archbishop agreed to hire an outside law firm to investigate the accusation. By early 2014, the archdiocese had selected the top-ranked Minneapolis firm of Greene Espel. Nienstedt, along with auxiliary bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzens, flew to Washington, D.C., to inform the apostolic nuncio of the allegations. Over the course of the investigation, lawyers have interviewed current and former associates and employees of Nienstedt—including Haselberger, who resigned in protest in April 2013.

“Based on my interview with Greene Espel—as well as conversations with other interviewees—I believe that the investigators have received about ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Haselberger told me. What’s more, “he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”

To read Gallicho article in its entirety, click here

You know, over the years, as executive coordinator of CPCSM, I received a number of communications, some anonymous, some not, from people alleging that Archbishop Nienstedt was gay and sexually active. The late David McCaffrey and I even met with a reporter from the Star Tribune in 2009. She expressed interest in pursuing the story but only if at least one of those making the accusations would be prepared to "go on record." Unfortunately, none of them were prepared to do so. I later explored this rather frustrating situation through the writing of "The Note," one of the installments of my Journal of James Curtis series.

Nienstedt's "shadow"

More recently I shared my thoughts on what I called Nienstedt's "shadow." This discussion was inspired by the words and insights of author and psychologist John Neafsey as they 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.

Many will read this last paragraph of Neafsey's and immediately think of Nienstedt's words and actions around the issue of homosexuality. After all, as David Gibson of the Religion News Service notes, "Nienstedt has earned a reputation as a leading culture warrior in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and his signature issue is homosexuality."

Indeed, from the very start of his tenure as archbishop (in fact, even well before he was appointed coadjutor archbishop) John Nienstedt has been in the news for making what many consider to be outlandish and hurtful statements not only about gay people but also those who love and support them.

In 2007, for instance, he wrote that "Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin." In December 2007, over 300 Catholics, many of them parents of LGBT people, gathered on the steps of the St. Paul Cathedral to both stand in solidarity with their LGBT loved ones and voice their disagreement with Nienstedt's words.

Nienstedt has also been obsessed with demonizing consensual sexual relationships of same-sex couples and working to ensure that such relationships are not 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.

Obsessive and misguided

Many local Catholics were scandalized and angered by the amount of time, energy and money that Nienstedt expended on demonizing gay relationships and attempting to deny them legal recognition in civil law. Such resources, these Catholics contend, could and should have been focused 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 admitted in his recent deposition, he was "out of the loop" about.

I believe that 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 is to do with issues related to his own homosexuality and its integration (or lack thereof) 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.)

Today's news, however, takes things to a whole new level. Nienstedt is being investigated for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men. In the worst case scenario, the word "inappropriate" in this context could mean that he expressed his same-sex desires in ways that coerced and exploited others. He is also accused of "retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct." It thus could be that the "inappropriate conduct" of the archbishop that is under investigation largely comprises an abuse of power. And then, of course, if these allegations are proven true then there's the sickening level of hypocrisy that must be faced: As Nienstedt was tirelessly working to demonize consensual sexual activity between two people of the same sex and to deny legal recognition of same-sex relationships, he himself was engaging in (or attempting to engage in) sexual activity with other men.

Not unique

When are we going to learn that we can't suppress our sexual desires? They'll find a way to surface, and when the attempt to suppress is overlaid with shame and the language of sin, they often surface in inappropriate and damaging ways. I have no doubt that Nienstedt is a damaged individual, in the sense that he is largely unconscious of his own sexual energy, how he acts it out, and how others experience it. Accordingly, I believe he may well be incapable of recognizing, let alone accepting and integrating, the God-given gift of his sexual orientation. It's tragic that the church's clerical caste and is dysfunctional sexual theology, to which Nienstedt has devoted his life, is largely responsible for this damage.

Nienstedt's situation is certainly not unique. I've written previously about how closeted and self-loathing gay men in the church's clerical caste are "giving the rest of us a bad name." I've also joked with friends that it often sounds as if these closet cases are experiencing more sex than I am as an out gay man. But as a friend pointed out, why would you want that type of sex – compulsive, guilt-ridden, and often dependent on abuse of power. And it's true: I don't want that type of sexual experience; no self-respecting gay man does.

But then gay men who have integrated their sexuality into the totality of their being don't possess the type of "shadow" that leads to such unconscious, unhealthy and, I'd argue, ultimately unsatisfying sexual experiences; the type of "shadow" that Nienstedt may well have cast for many years but which is now catching up with him in the sense that he's becoming conscious of it as a result of the complaints against him and the investigation these complaints have prompted. Perhaps up until now he wasn't even aware that certain actions on his part have been experienced by other men as attempts at flirtation and/or sexual advances. How terribly sad it would be if he really is that unconscious of his own sexual desires and how he is acting them out! And if this is indeed the case then my prayer is that the archbishop will recognize in the current crisis an opportunity to deal with his sexual desires in a fully conscious and healthy way. His clerical "career" may well end as a result, but his journey as an authentic human being will continue (perhaps in some ways begin) and hopefully be an ever-fuller expression of what God invites all of us to embody – a life of self-awareness, compassion and integrity.


Twin Cities Archbishop Resigns
After Charges of Abuse Coverup

– Jean Hopfensperger and Chao Xiong
Star Tribune
June 16, 2015

Investigators Explore Personal Ties
Between Nienstedt and Defrocked Priest

– Jean Hopfensperger
Star Tribune
June 17, 2015

An Isolated Nienstedt Tried to Limit
Investigation Into Himself

– Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio News
June 19, 2015

Fall from Grace: Why Nienstedt Had So
Little Support Among Twin Cities Catholics

– Tim Gihring
June 16, 2015

In His First Remarks Since Resigning,
Nienstedt Denies Allegations in Affidavits

– Jean Hopfensperger, Tony Kennedy and Paul McEnroe
Star Tribune
July 19, 2015

Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt Under Investigation – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, July 1, 2014).
Twin Cities Archbishop Nienstedt Under Investigation for Sexual Misconduct – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, July 1, 2014).
Archbishop Authorized Secret Investigation of Himself – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 1, 2014).
Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt Under Scrutiny for Same-Sex Relationships – David Gibson (Religion News Service via National Catholic Reporter, July 1, 2014).
Homophobic Minnesota Archbishop Under Investigation for "Inappropriate Sexual Relations" With MenDaily Kos (July 1, 2014).
Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, July 3, 2014).
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough" – Bob Beutel (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 10, 2013).

UPDATES: Calls to Resign Plague Twin Cities Archbishop Accused of Sexual Misconduct – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, July 10, 2014).
The Dark Side of Getting to Know Yourself – Anja (Applied Jung, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
It's Time for Nienstedt to Resign
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

Image 1: Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News.
Image 2: Photographer unknown.


Joe said...

I do feel sorry for him. He seems a troubled, unhappy soul. I do think he should resign, and get whatever help he needs.

LN said...

I've have been hearing these rumors for so many years...I'm glad they are finally seeing the light of day.

Helen Smith said...

Well written, Michael. Very thought-provoking, the idea of our shadow. Thank you.

Obie said...


I splashed this blogpost around Facebook. All the best.

David Strand said...

Michael, you manage to be simultaneously compassionate, and uncompromising in this analysis. While where there is smoke there is not always fire, it certainly appears like so many cases of "thou dost protest too much" that I've witnessed over the years. I can hardly count the number of individuals I've encountered who were publicly vehemently homophobic with unusual ardor who have attempted to abuse power to act out their repressed sexuality while attempting to keep it hidden from those they don't want to know, sometimes apparently denying to themselves their own behaviors. I have to say this hasn't been limited to religious contexts but also in many other contexts where people with these issues have some kind of power over others.

Robert said...

Nienstedt needs to resign. He is the most divisive Archbishop in America. Few Catholics have confidence in him and based on the rumors and feedback from his own clergy, his behavior may not have been criminal, but it was certainly hypocritical. Like they say, "He protesters too much." We need a new leader, more like Pope Francis, more concerned about following in the footsteps of Jesus than in pomp and circumstance of the high church.

Julie said...

This article is really excellent, Michael. My hope is that he resigns, gets the treatment he needs, and can work toward living an authentic life. My hunch is that the gay community that I've grown to love and admire for its wisdom and forgiveness, can help this person as he moves forward.

wild hair said...

I think this an excellent Jungian analysis and so well and compassionately written. I have been looking for an article like this since I first saw this news a day or two ago. Thanks for putting this all together.

Michael S said...

After reading your commentary, I feel the sincere need to pray for him (rather than gloat over his exposed hypocrisy). Still, he must be removed from church leadership for the sake of integrity.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone seem to regard Nienstedt as being "unconscious" about his behavior. Granted people who engage in sexual behavior have been known to get very drunk, both to release inhibitions and to claim in the morning that they don't remember anything. But if the information so far is correct, Nienstedt doesn't have a problem with memory. I have no problem believing that he struggles, has much shame, etc, but he comes across more as a hypocrite who uses his power to get what he wants.