(Photo: Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis)
John C. Nienstedt, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has voluntarily stepped down from all public ministry amid a police investigation into allegations that he touched a minor inappropriately in 2009, though he has denied the claims.
"The archdiocese is mindful of the due process concerns of those involved. There must be justice and due consideration of the rights and dignity of every human person, both the individual involved and the archbishop. This is not only the bedrock of our beliefs as Catholics, but also of the justice system of our country," the archdiocese said in an official statement Tuesday.
All within the archdiocese "will be subject to the internal policies we have established," the statement continued. "Our thoughts and prayers remain with the individual involved and the archbishop as justice is pursued and all may move forward on a path toward healing."
The only information so far about the case is that Nienstedt allegedly touched a "minor male on the buttocks" in 2009 during a group photography session.
In a letter to the congregation on Tuesday, the archbishop said he does not know who the accuser is, but insisted that the allegation is "absolutely and entirely false."
"I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor and I have tried to the very best of my ability to serve this Archdiocese and the church faithfully, with honor and due regard for the rights of all, even those with whom I disagree," he wrote.
Nienstedt reflected that during public photo sessions, he normally stands "with one hand on my crozier (staff) and the other either on the right shoulder of the newly confirmed or on my pallium (the short stole), which hangs from my chest."
The archbishop continued: "True, I am a sinner, but my sins do not include any kind of abuse of minors. I have met victims and I know the lasting damage that such abuse causes.
"I hope that the investigations can be thorough but quick. I already long to be back in public ministry-to be able to serve as the Lord has called me to serve."
Nienstedt was installed at his current position in 2008, succeeding the retiring Archbishop Harry Flynn.
In November, the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese said that it is releasing a list of priests who have serious allegations of sexual abuse, in order to demonstrate "commitment to the safety of minors and transparency."
In the accompanying letter, Nienstedt explained that "serious mistakes" were made regarding "the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases."
"Offering expressions of regret and sorrow seems so inadequate in the context of the crimes of the offenders and our failures to deal with them properly. And yet, I must say how sorry I am. My heart is heavy for the victims of this repugnant abuse," wrote Nienstedt. "Only with the understanding and sharing of this information will we begin to heal and rebuild our relationship of trust. There is nothing more important."
The archdiocese announced that Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over Nienstedt's duties while the investigation takes place.