Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul denied suggestions that he was gay or could be considered anti-gay in recent media blitz intended to confront intensifying calls for his resignation. He also spoke about a failed 2012 campaign to ban marriage equality, archdiocesan financial difficulties, and clergy sexual abuse of minors.
Controversy has surrounded the archbishop for more than a year, with concurrent claims that he mishandled clergy sexual abuse claims and made advances on other men, including priests and seminarians in the diocese. Nienstedt also possesses a strong anti-LGBT record that many church justice advocates have criticized.
However, Nienstedt said he would not resign unless asked to do so by the papal nuncio because he is confident the archdiocese was “in a much better place” now.
Regarding allegations of sexual misconduct against priests and seminarians, Nienstedt ordered an independent investigation that has produced a report now under review by church officials. The Star Tribune reported the archbishop denies any misconduct and blames ‘enemies’ for the allegations:
“Nienstedt said he believed that the investigation involved five allegations of sexual impropriety, including from the time he served in the Detroit Archdiocese in the 1990s. . .The allegations were made by priests and seminarians.
“When asked why Catholic priests and seminarians alleged he had same-sex attraction, Nienstedt responded, ‘I have no idea.’
” ‘But I made a lot of enemies by the stands I’ve taken in Detroit and here,’ he said. ‘I assume it feeds into that.’ “
In a separate interview with KCCO, video of which is available at The Advocate, Nienstedt was asked directly if he was gay and responded:
” ‘No, I’m not gay. But I also want to say, as it was quoted in the paper this morning, I’m not anti-gay either. At the time of the marriage amendment, a lot of people said I was bigoted, that I was homophobic and I’m not.’ “
Nienstedt spoke about that 2012 campaign for an amendment banning marriage equality, for which he mailed more than 400,000 DVDs to Catholics, had anti-marriage equality prayers inserted into the liturgy, and told the mother of a gay son that acceptance of her son might imperil salvation. Administratively, Nienstedt banned priests from endorsing marriage equality or opposing the proposed ban — though this did not stop several courageous priests from speaking out and donating to pro-LGBT causes. In the end, Catholics in Minnesota played a crucial role in defeating the ban and stood on the side of LGBT justice.
Whereas Nienstedt once said that “marriage equality is the work of Satan,” the archbishop now says he was “not against gays” and “didn’t fight gay marriage.” Instead, he was positively advancing a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage and clarifying Catholic teaching on homosexuality. An attempt by the archbishop to explain these teachings came up short when pressed by reporter Tom Lyden:
“[Lyden]: Okay. What about homosexuals?
“[Nienstedt]: Homosexuals need to lead chaste lives.
“L: They need to lead celibate lives?
“N: Well, yes.
“L: Okay. Does that seem reasonable to you, that we should all lead the lives of priests?
“N: Well… um…
“L: Tell me, archbishop, why should I lead the life of a priest?
“A: Because it is of your nature to, um, express yourself sexually through a committed relationship.
“L: I am. I’ve been with the same partner and husband now for 21 years.”
You can view the full 30-minute Fox interview at The New Civil Rights Movement.
Archbishop Nienstedt’s history in the Twin Cities is deeply troubled, but these interviews make clear he is not planning on resigning. The allegations of personal misconduct proving true would only add to this tragedy, as Francis DeBernardo wrote on this blog in July. I reiterate DeBernardo’s concluding words about Nienstedt:
“I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry