Archbishop John Nienstedt is stepping aside from his public position as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis while St. Paul Police investigate allegations that he inappropriately touched a boy in 2009.
According to a statement from the archdiocese Tuesday morning, an unspecified church individual who is required to report all abuse allegations told St. Paul police that Nienstedt had been accused of inappropriately touching “a minor male on the buttocks.” The “single incident” took place in 2009 at a group photography session with the archbishop after a confirmation ceremony, according to the release.
Nienstedt “emphatically denies” the allegation but will immediately step aside while it is investigated.
“The archbishop and the archdiocese stand ready to cooperate fully with the St. Paul police,” the release read.
Nienstedt addressed the allegations in a Tuesday letter to parishioners in the archdiocese.
“I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false,” he wrote. “I have never once engaged in inappropriate behavior 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.”
The news comes as the church is embroiled in controversy over its handling of clergy sex abuse cases and reports that leaders covered up some of the incidents. The archdiocese recently released a list of 32 priests with credible claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor. On Monday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona also released the names of 14 priests accused of abusing minors, as mandated by a Ramsey County judge.
Archdiocesan officials said the steps they’ve taken in response to the allegation “demonstrate and reaffirm” their “commitment to disclosure.” “These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established,” the release read.
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over Nienstedt’s public duties during the investigation.