(RNS) A Vatican spokesman says the release of documents alleging its former ambassador to the U.S. stopped an investigation of a Minnesota archbishop “is a very complex issue” that will require further study.
“We need more information before we can make any comment,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said.
The spokesman’s remarks came in an interview with The New York Times on Thursday (July 21), the day after a new collection of documents regarding clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was made public.
Among them was a memo that detailed sexual misconduct and harassment allegations against former Archbishop John Nienstedt, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
It also said the Vatican ambassador in 2014 had told bishops to stop their investigation. When those bishops responded with a letter saying that “would rightly be seen as a coverup,’’ the memo published on the Star Tribune website said, then-ambassador Archbishop Carlo Vigano told them to “destroy” the letter.
The documents were released hours after the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office dropped criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its handling of sex abuse allegations against another priest, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, the Star Tribune reported.
Wehmeyer, who was a priest in St. Paul, was convicted in 2013 of sexually abusing the sons of a church employee and is now serving time in prison, it said.
The Rev. Dan Griffith, a canon lawyer, wrote in the memo:
“As you know, the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer has garnered much media attention, including red flags missed by the Archdiocese and the subsequent abuse of two minor boys. What is not known by the press, the public or many in archdiocesan leadership is that the evidence suggests Archbishop Nienstedt had an ongoing social relationship with Fr. Wehmeyer, [which] included dining together and drinking alcohol.”
That relationship — and allegations of Nienstedt’s own past misconduct — may have influenced his judgment in Wehmeyer’s case, the memo said.
Before the investigation was cut off, lawyers had taken affidavits from 11 witnesses and planned to pursue 24 more leads alleging the archbishop had engaged in “sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; reprisals in response to the rejection of unwelcome advances” and a sexual relationship with a Swiss Guardsman, The New York Times reported.
Nienstedt resigned as archbishop last year. He reportedly lives in Michigan and has denied any sexual impropriety, according to the Star Tribune.
Vigano retired earlier this year and returned to live in the Vatican. He famously had organized the brief meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, when the pontiff visited the U.S. in 2015.
Francis replaced him with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a career diplomat whose approach is seen as more in line with the pope’s.