Nienstedt orders review of church handling of clergy sexual abuse

Rev. Nienstedt
Reverend John Nienstedt, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Archbishop John Nienstedt announced Sunday that he's asked a University of St. Thomas law professor and priest to assemble a task force to study how the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is handling clergy sexual misconduct.

A letter sent by the archdiocese to parish priests said addressing the allegations is "the top priority for the archdiocese."

The archdiocese urged priests to announce at mass this weekend that Nienstedt has appointed the Rev. Reginald Whitt, a Dominican priest and University of St. Thomas law professor, to lead the creation of a task force to review all issues related to clergy misconduct. Whitt will appoint a task force of lay people but will not be a member of the group. The letter said the board will make specific recommendations and will release the report to the public.

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Nienstedt's move comes after two reports from MPR News. One investigation found that church leaders disregarded warning signs about a parish priest who later went on to sexually abuse two boys. Another found that Nienstedt and others disregarded concerns that a priest had pornography on his computer that was "borderline illegal."

Jennifer Haselberger, a former archdiocese official, issued a statement on Saturday calling for an independent review of all of the clergy files and publicly release any names of priests involved in sexual misconduct.

Nienstedt's top deputy, Vicar General Peter Laird, abruptly resigned on Thursday amid the scandal.

Editor's note: This updated version of the story clarifies the roles of Nienstedt and Whitt in the review panel.