Careful observers, as well as those who receive emails from the Communications Department of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, have probably noticed that there appears to be a fierce battle being fought between the media and the Archdiocese regarding the terminology employed to describe just about every aspect of the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt. Was Peter Wold hired/retained/employed by Bishop Piche, the Archdiocese, or the Archbishop himself? How many people have brought/made/offered the accusations/allegations/affidavits? Are we talking about sexual misconduct (the term used by the media), or misbehavior (the term used by Bishop Piche), and is there a difference?

I was somewhat bemused to see that several media outlets, including the AP, have reported that I said 'about 10 men have accused him of sexual misconduct'. If you review what was reported in Commonweal Magazine when it broke the story, you will see that I actually did no such thing. Instead, I spoke of allegations of 'sexual impropriety' and 'inappropriate sexual conduct'. I suppose I could have asked media outlets to correct their statement, but honestly I don't want to engage in a war of what is, at best, semantics. Misconduct (the Archdiocese's preferred term when referring to bad behavior by all clergy except the Archbishop), is defined as 'wrong behavior' or 'unlawful conduct by an official in regard to his or her office'. Misbehavior, on the other hand, is not associated with a particular role or position, but instead refers to any 'improper, inappropriate, or bad behavior'. Given that we are speaking of the behavior of an Archbishop, I am not sure how important the distinction really is, although the abuse of power and office certainly elevates the canonical implications of what is alleged.

I chose to use the word 'impropriety' because I wanted to emphasize what was to me the most important aspect of the investigation- the possibility that Archbishop Nienstedt's personal history of inappropriate sexual conduct influenced his decisions when dealing with errant clergy such as Father Curtis Wehmeyer, and caused him to discount (repeatedly) warnings about the potential danger of assigning Wehmeyer and others. 

Prior to his arrest for sexually abusing minors, the Archdiocese had received numerous reports of inappropriate and reckless sexual behavior on the part of Father Wehmeyer, including that he was 'cruising' and had propositioned at least one other priest of the Archdiocese. I brought these matters to the attention of the Archbishop as early as 2009, but the Archbishop overrode my concerns and chose to appoint Wehmeyer pastor of two parishes anyhow. This was always inexplicable to me, until I heard that one of the allegations/affidavits/reports that has been made as part of this investigation is that the Archbishop has also been known to go 'cruising' (and I am not referring to the type of cruising one does on a ship in the Caribbean) and, on one occasion, purchased 'poppers' (and not the exploding candy preferred by elementary school students) and followed another gentleman to his car for, well, the type of activity that men purchase 'poppers' for, only to discover when the interior lights of the car went on that the other individual had been a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Detroit. What was reported to me was that when the Archbishop recognized the individual, he made a statement to the extent that he 'couldn't do this' and left the car. Again, this is only one of the reports that I have heard about, which leaves approximately a dozen more accusations of various types and from other individuals at other times. 

Misconduct? Misbehavior? According to what I heard, on at least this occasion the sexual act was not completed. Still, this is gravely problematic behavior for a man vowed to celibacy and under an obligation to remain chaste. More importantly, from my perspective at least, it provides some context for Nienstedt's handling of the situation involving Father Michael Krenik, who would become his secretary post-arrest, and his attempts to form what the Archbishop has described as a 'pastoral' relationship with Father Wehmeyer, despite the fact that I think the vast majority of archdiocesan priests (or at least those who are not 'his type') would argue that he never attempted to form any type of relationship with them. 

For me, the most important question for whoever is investigating this matter has always been whether the Archbishop's ability to lead the Archdiocese was/is compromised by his personal behavior. I think the circumstances surrounding Father Wehmeyer's ministry and arrest, and the Archdiocese's response to both, indicates it is. Hence I am not going to get too wrapped up in discussions of 'misconduct' versus 'misbehavior'. In my opinion, what we are talking about is dereliction of duty, and the investigation into that, at least in my opinion, is already complete.  


Cindy Schreiner
12/11/2014 10:59pm

I urge you to read Archbishop Nienstedt's column in The Catholic Spirit from August 29, 2013. He experienced the Boundary Waters with 4 seminarians & wrote a comparison of creation to a women's body! The hormones must have been rampant in the wilderness. I felt violated, humiliated,& repulsed as I read his comparison to sexuality.

12/18/2014 3:08pm

Excellent commentary Jennifer.

Those of us who endured time in the seminary system are well aware of the magnitude of compromising sexual behavior many of us observed, some experienced and some participated in, at every level of the clergy in the archdiocese.

The shock of it all of wore off long ago - but the telltale signs of those bishops and clergy preaching what they aren't practicing haven't changed.

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    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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