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Prosecutors won't charge Minnesota archbishop

March 11, 2014
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Archbishop John Nienstedt will not face criminal charges in connection with an allegation that he inappropriately touched a boy during a public photo shoot in 2009, authorities announced Tuesday.

Nienstedt, who had strongly denied the allegation but stepped down from public ministry while police investigated, said Tuesday he will now resume all of his public duties.

"I look forward to returning to public ministry during this Lenten season, especially during Holy Week and the great feast of Easter," Nienstedt said in a statement. "I continue to offer my prayers for all ... who have been harmed by clergy sexual abuse. I once again offer my apology to all who have been affected by these terrible offenses."

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office said Tuesday's announcement resolves this specific case against Nienstedt, but other investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are ongoing.

Police say there are currently eight other open investigations.

Nienstedt announced Dec. 17 that he had been accused of touching a boy on the buttocks during a public photo session following a confirmation ceremony in 2009.

During an interview with police, the alleged victim said it happened when he and others were lining up for a group photograph. He told police Nienstedt had one hand on his shoulder, but then moved that hand down the boy's back to his buttocks, according to a memo that outlines why prosecutors declined to file charges.

"The male said he thought that it was 'creepy' but did not feel violated," Criminal Division Director Richard Dusterhoft wrote in the memo.

In the photo, Nienstedt is directly behind the alleged victim, with his left hand on the staff he carries and his right hand on the boy's left shoulder. There are 11 other people in the photo, including a priest and a deacon.

"The group is arranged on the stairs and the Archbishop is standing one step higher than the male," the memo said. "It appears from the photograph that the Archbishop would have to bend to reach the male's buttocks and that any such action would likely have been witnessed by others present."

Police spoke with everyone in the photo. No one witnessed any touching or said they touched anyone else as a joke, the memo said.

"It also seems unlikely that the Archbishop, if he were so inclined, would pick that moment to sexually touch a random boy openly ... while the confirmands' family members were preparing to document the moment in photographs," the memo said.

Police interviewed Nienstedt twice during the investigation. The first time he said he would not have touched the boy's buttocks, and said he stands in all photos with one hand on his staff and the other on his stole, the memo said.

After police found the photo — with Nienstedt's hand on the boy's shoulder — they interviewed him again. Nienstedt said that before he became archbishop and began wearing a stole, he routinely posed in photos with one hand on a person's shoulder.

Nienstedt was "surprised" to see his hand on the boy's shoulder in this picture, the memo said.

The memo said the state can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any touching occurred, or was done intentionally or with a sexual intent.

It also said that resting a hand on the buttocks in the context of a group photo could be done in a "thoughtless, unintentional or accidental manner."

The incident came to the attention of police on Dec. 16. The memo said that at some point after the May 5, 2009, ceremony, the boy told his mother that Nienstedt touched him. At a later date, the mother told a priest friend about it, who reported the incident to the archdiocese and police.

The ceremony of confirmation is a Roman Catholic sacrament during which people confirm their faith. The church considers people who have gone through the process to be responsible for their own spiritual growth.

 
 

 

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