On Sunday afternoon, Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North confirmed that Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt, one of the nation’s most vocal and vociferous Catholic anti-LGBT voices, must testify about covering up child abuse within the church in Minnesota. Sunday’s ruling, which mirrored his decision early last week, came in response to the Twin Cities archdiocese’s appeal to stay the testimony.
Former Vicar General Kevin McDonough, who recently resigned in light of the cover-up, will also be forced to testify before March 13. The judge also reconfirmed his ruling that the church must turn in a list of all priests accused of child and sexual abuse since 2004, though such names will remain under seal. The archdiocese released a partial list in late 2013, but had refused to release the entire list.
The church’s failed attempt at a stay represented, according to Minnesota Public Radio, a “more aggressive legal approach” than those yet fielded. It also offered its most public legal failure to date in the state, and it remains unclear whether any mechanism for appeal remains.
The ruling stands as a boon to both those seeking recourse for decades of sex abuse within the Catholic Church, as well as those who know Nienstedt for his history of outspoken bigotry. While his anti-LGBT views aren’t as prominent as Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Nienstedt arguably carries the most acidic views among high-ranking American Catholics.
Nienstedt’s beliefs came to a head in the lead-up to the state’s 2012 anti-same-sex marriage amendment, which the archbishop both spearheaded and helped fund through the church’s charity arm. (This, while numerous churches in his diocese were closing due to a lack of financial support.) After spending years graphically detailing scenes from Brokeback Mountain in church bulletins, staking that those who “actively encourage … homosexual acts” are committing “mortal sin,” and mailing — without asking — 400,000 anti-gay marriage DVDs to the state’s Catholics, the archbishop tossed the full weight of his organization behind a state amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The amendment, of course, failed, and but a few months later Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage in the US. Not long after, MPR began unearthing claims and documentation detailing the decades of sex abuse committed by Minensota priests – and the subsequent cover-up from Nienstedt and the two archbishops coming prior. Numerous priests were reshuffled, promoted, or placed on paid leave without attendant reporting to local authorities. As MPR’s investigative work continued, a boy accused Nienstedt of improper touching during a Confirmation ceremony. The archbishop stepped aside temporarily while the investigation unfurled. He has not been seen in public since. As such, not only will the forthcoming testimony provide legal means to examine the decades of cover-up, but it will force Nienstedt to speak on an issue that, unlike LGBT rights, he has remained resoundingly silent on recently.
Casey Michel is a graduate student at Columbia University, and former Peace Corps Kazakhstan volunteer. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, and Talking Points Memo, and he has contributed multiple long-form investigations to Minneapolis’s City Pages and the Houston Press. You can follow him on Twitter.
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