Documents contradict Nienstedt testimony on another abusive priest

Archbishop John Neinstedt's video testimony
Archbishop John Nienstedt answered questions about his handling of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis during an April 2, 2014, deposition.
Courtesy of Jeff Anderson and Associates

Church documents released Wednesday show that Archbishop John Nienstedt gave a false statement under oath about his knowledge of the Rev. Michael Stevens' criminal conviction for sexually assaulting a child.

Nienstedt had testified as part of a lawsuit in April that he did not know that Stevens had pleaded guilty in the 1980s to child sex abuse while an associate priest at the Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids. However, documents from the archdiocese's file on Stevens show that a chancery official reminded Nienstedt of Stevens' criminal history every year. They include five documents signed by Nienstedt from 2009 to 2013 that indicated he received yearly reports on Stevens and that he approved of the priest's monitoring plan.

MPR News has previously reported that Nienstedt made two other false statements during the April 2, 2014 deposition. Nienstedt testified falsely that he had only recently learned of the criminal conviction of the Rev. Gilbert Gustafson.

He also testified inaccurately that he did not know until recently that the Rev. Kenneth LaVan had remained in ministry. LaVan has been accused of sexually abusing children, a charge he denies.

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Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

In both of those cases, the archdiocese's documents contradicted Nienstedt's account.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents victims of clergy sex abuse, released the documents on Stevens and 23 other priests on his law firm's website Wednesday. The archdiocese had provided the documents to Anderson in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit filed last year. They concern priests whose allegations had already been disclosed to the public, but offer new details about how the archdiocese handled the claims.

The latest contradiction casts further doubt on Nienstedt's credibility as he tries to lead the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis through a clergy sex abuse scandal that began 14 months ago when an MPR News investigation showed that the archdiocese had given abusive priests extra payments and failed to report alleged sex crimes to police.

Nienstedt has promised to be more open in his handling of the scandal. In a statement released today, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said the release of the files "is in the interest of public disclosure and transparency."

Priest's conviction

In December, Nienstedt named Stevens, 59, as among a group of "priests with credible claims against them of sexual abuse of a minor."

Stevens pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct on Nov. 25, 1987, in Anoka County and completed his probation in February 1993.

He told an investigator that he had invited a 13-year-old boy on a "camping" trip to a motel in Fridley and touched his genitals and asked him to take off his clothes, according to the criminal complaint and a report from the Anoka County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's report said, "The defendant stated the reason for having the victim do this was so he could observe his sexual organs."

Stevens later told an investigator that he was "curious" about the boy's sexual development.

After his conviction, Stevens was removed from serving as a priest in parishes but continued to work as a computer technician for the archdiocese and several Twin Cities parishes until last year.

In April, Anderson asked Nienstedt about Stevens as part of the deposition.

"Are you aware that in mid-1980s, he pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct with a minor?" Anderson asked.

"I'm not, no," Nienstedt said.

However, documents show that Nienstedt received yearly reports that mentioned the criminal charge. The most recent report from monitor John Selvig — dated May 7, 2013 — noted that Stevens "was involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with a vulnerable adolescent boy in 1987 ... He was charged criminally in Ramsey County receiving a period of probation."

The following day, Nienstedt signed a document acknowledging that he had received the report and approved of the monitoring plan.

Nienstedt received similar reports and signed similar documents in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Anderson has said he plans to release more files on priests accused of sexually abusing children. His law firm received 103 files in the clergy sex abuse lawsuit filed last year, according to court records.

Some of those files were provided to Anderson under seal, but the archdiocese has agreed to allow Anderson to release some of them as part of a settlement. Disputes over sealed information will be decided by a special master agreed to by Anderson, the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Winona diocese, according to the settlement terms.