The Diocese of Jefferson City

A Case Study of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Monday, December 16, 2013

Childproof 48: Archbishop Nienstedt and His Lawyer

Page 48

Joseph F. Kueppers
Vice Chancellor
Civil Affairs
St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn.
Dear Bishop Gaydos:

What happens when you tell your pal
Archbishop John C. Nienstedt about a
predatory priest?

Not much.  Just like your operation
in Jefferson City, we have a mirror
image of subterfuge and secrecy in
the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
In late November one of our friends —
Paul — telephoned the Twin Cities
Chancery to admonish Nienstedt
about a predatory priest he has
allowed to resume a career as a
local morality crusader, preacher,
and teacher.
But no one Paul spoke with at Nienstedt's Summit Avenue office was receptive, agreeable, or concerned about this man or those he has victimized.
Archbishop Nienstedt’s personal secretary, Deborah K. Thielen,
seemed to be offended by the details of our friend’s message,
dismissing the conversation with nervous laughter and mock
humor.  She also refused to confirm any details of our
communication or contact information before disconnecting
the call. 

Cover-up Artists:  The unfolding pedophile priest scandal in the Archdiocese
of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn., forced the resignation three senior church
officials, including the Rev. Kevin McDonough (left), vicar general (1991-2009);
Andrew J.
Eisenzimmer, vice chancellor-civil affairs (2005-2013); and the
Rev. Peter A. Laird, vicar general (2009-2013).

Paul called back — refusing to be dismissed out of hand — to
speak with the Rev. Michael Krenik, Nienstedt’s confidential secretary.  Krenik responded professionally in a courteous monotone with no sense of empathy, as if he had been assigned latrine duty.
Then Paul received voice mail on 18 November 2013.  The caller identified himself as Joe Kueppers and referenced the problem priest by name:  we will call him “Father X.”

At first we assumed Joseph F. Kueppers was a staff member with the archdiocese’s victims assistance program.  A psychologist, perhaps, or a social worker seeking additional information about the matter.
Father X or just another pretty face.
Instead we were confronted by an
attorney with the improbable title
of Vice Chancellor for Civil Affairs.
Our initial response:  Why would a
lawyer masquerade as a caregiver
or clergyman?  This job usually
goes to a priest and, occasionally,
a nun.
We waited a fortnight, approximately, to return the call and use the wonderful innovation of the speaker phone. 
We also discovered Kueppers’ true agenda:  Nienstedt’s muscle — combative, hostile, impatient.
“What do you want?” Kueppers asked outright.  “Who do you work for?” he demanded, a bit hoarse in the throat.
Then the follow-up question: “Why are you doing this?”
Paul’s reply was straightforward:  “I’m returning your call.”
A moment of silence and still no response, so we moved the next chessman:  “You have the information and personnel records?”
More silence.
“I have the file here,” Kueppers finally replied.
“Then you have the names of the victim’s, their healthcare records, the names of the facilities where they received medical treatment, and the cost associated with their healthcare.”
Silence, again.
“I’m still here,” Kueppers said.
“Then you have enough to work with,” Paul replied.
More silence.  And then Paul decided to hang up the phone.
Kueppers’ disingenuousness is to be expected.

A Hierarchy of Criminals:  The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn., has
been governed by a criminal hierarchy for more than 40 years.  The current
management, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn and his successor, Archbishop John C.
Nienstedt, represent the current generation engaged in the exploitation of
children for the sake of protecting the predators they employ and damaging
the reputations of those who do good works..

In 2005, as co-founder and public policy advisor for the Minnesota Chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (MNSNAP), we learned that Archbishop Harry J. Flynn (Nienstedt’s immediate predecessor) was shielding a prominent priest who had been cited with multiple boundary violations with vulnerable adult females.  Two of his victims received medical care at Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, Albany, Ohio.

According to Wellspring’s mission statement, the retreat is:

“A residential counseling center specializing in
the treatment of individuals who have suffered in
abusive groups, whether religious or secular; these
are often called cults. Our program is also effective
for those who have been in coercive relationships,
and those who have experienced professional abuse
and/or sexual exploitation from therapists, doctors,
clergy, and teachers.”
One of the predator’s victims, whom we will call “Dora Sinclaire,” described Wellspring in September 2005 as follows:
“Wellspring is a treatment place for people who have gone through things similar to me. It’s a place for
healing and to put things into perspective.  When one
has experienced any type of abuse from someone who is supposed to represent the Church, it often taints their image of God and leaves them feeling lost about faith, morals, life in general.  This place helps people to put things into perspective and take their life back, to deal with the shame, the guilt, self-blame, fear of being
taken advantage of again, etc.  I will be there for two
weeks. I’m really looking forward to it and hope it will
help a lot.”
On 1 September 2005, “Dora Sinclaire” informed us:
“Just wanted to let you know that I asked the diocese
to pay for a treatment program to help me heal from what happened to me by Fr. X.  They paid for it in full, ($5,000) and are also paying for my airfare.  They obviously know that he is a problem.”
“Dora Sinclaire” sought spiritual direction from this archdiocesan
predator and participated in retreats that he organized on a regular basis for area Catholics.  “Ms. Sinclaire’s” spiritual advisor specialized in an amalgam of Carmelite devotionals (with a hint of Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross) and charismatic renewal.  In private sessions, he forced himself on each victim with the proviso that her blouse and/or brassiere may come off when
imbued by the Holy Spirit.  So much for the Pentecost experience of Tongues of Fire.
We have this description of an event published in a newsletter about one of this priest’s retreats:
“Historically we have given our members a cross upon
pledging. This change is being made because one of
our active members had a vision of the Lord in which
He made it known that the gift we should give our
members who pledge should be the crown of thorns.
The member who received the vision described it
as follows:
“I ‘saw’ Jesus standing nearby. He held out the crown
of thorns and reminded me of His suffering when He
paid the price for our sins. He then said that at the
moment we pledge that the Crown of Thorns would
unite us and would mark us as uniquely His; as fellow
sharers in His suffering. It would also be the means of
blessing our journey before Him with great graces in
behalf of others.”
Archbishop Flynn did not remove this priest from active duty despite complaints about his behavior.  Instead, he publicly backed this predator’s evangelization activities.  Flynn attended this priest’s retreats, celebrated the Mass with those attending these events, and meeting individually with those who participated. 

Jennifer Haselberger
Vice Chancellor
Canonical Affairs
St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn.
By 2006, Flynn was forced to give way
and transfer the predator to hospital
chaplaincy work and deny him the
privilege to conduct retreats, preach,
or lecture on theological matters (his
specialty).  We do not know if he engaged
in similar behavior with the hospital staff
or patients as he did with those he
counseled on matters spiritual.
And so, now, we wonder why Kueppers responded with hostility when we brought “Father X” to his attention.
Kueppers shared a law practice with
his brother for 29 years in St. Paul
before joining Nienstedt’s team
full-time in January.  Nine months
later, t
he Chancery was in chaos due to senior management’s refusal to cooperate with law enforcement and continued protection of child predators.  One would think that, Kueppers, an astute attorney as any, should have been attuned to the scandal that the criminal culture of his superiors has cultivated in the Minnesota for more than 30 years.
But, then, Kueppers is tightly linked with the Archdiocese. He is an alumnus of St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights; earned an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Minnesota; and received his law degree from Hamline University.  He also is a graduate of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute.  In 2007 Nienstedt acknowledge Kueppers contribution to the Twin Cities organization as recipient of The Catholic Spirit’s Leading with Faith Award.
Trolls:  Archbishop John C.
Nienstedt and Harry J.
his predecessor,
knew that Jonathan Shelley
is a predator prior to his
ordination in 1995; and
his implication in two
cases in 2003 and 2012.
Still Nienstedt and Flynn
protected Shelley and
advanced his career
within the Archdiocese
of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Kueppers succeeded Andrew J. Eisenzimmer, who had been a Nienstedt confidant since 2005.   In October, Eisenzimmer was implicated as an accessory in a child pornography case involving another predatory priest employed by the Archdiocese:  the
Rev. Jonathan Shelley, 52, pastor
St. Jude of the Lake, Mahtomedi
(2004); and
formerly at St. John the
Baptist Church
, Hugo (2012). 

The pornography allegations surfaced
in 2003.  
Shelley was pastor at St. Jude
of the Lake parish in Mahtomedi when
the porn was found. He was temporarily
suspended because of “an allegation
of inappropriate activity,” according
to a parish letter to members dated
24 September 2004.

Eisenzimmer resigned with the Rev.
Peter A. Laird, Vicar General 2009-
2013, after more court testimony
in October revealed that both men conspired to protect this ordained sexual predator.  That testimony, provided by Jennifer Haselberger, vice chancellor for canonical affairs, discovered the evidence and contacted the St. Paul Police Department.

According to Ms. Haselberger’s testimony, nine years after Shelley’s activities were first reported to the Chancery, Nienstedt drafted a letter to the Vatican, dated 29 May 2012, asking whether pornography found on Shelley’s personal computer could “expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution?”  A copy of the letter was provided to St. Paul police by Ms. Haselberger.   

William Cardinal Levada
Prefect-Congregation of
the Doctrine of the Faith
Archdiocese-San Francisco
The letter, addressed to William Cardinal Levada, provides more detail about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of archdiocese officials regarding the discovery of Shelley’s computer (more than 1,300 images were examined by
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but St. Paul police allowed the Archdiocese to select
the images for review with additional
files held back by church officials). 
Nienstedt adds that pornographic
images were found on the Rev.
Shelley’s computer hard drive
before he became archbishop
in an effort to minimize
personal responsibility.  

A representative of the Archdiocese said the correspondence was never mailed to Levada, according to media reports.  Therefore, Nienstedt was able include a line in the 2012 correspondence that he was “unable to comment as to why this matter was not reported to you at that time,” as required by a papal order of 2001.
Nienstedt’s correspondence to Levada also highlights the fact that before Shelley’s 1995 ordination Archbishop Flynn was
aware of:

“Concerns were brought to the attention of the archdiocese regarding then seminarian/Deacon Shelley and his interactions with teenage male retreatants at Dunrovin Retreat Center. No sexual contact between Father Shelley and the young men was alleged, but a fellow counselor at the Retreat Center reported that Father Shelley wrestled with the boys in the swimming pool and otherwise had difficulties maintaining proper boundaries between himself and the (boys).

“This was investigated, determined to be a matter
of poor judgment, and Father Shelley was allowed
to proceed in formation.”

Other events leading to questions about Shelley include his allowing an 18-year-old parishioner to live in the parish offices during a dispute with his parents.

Serving Time:  the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer is serving a five-year sentence for
molesting two boys and possession of child pornography.  Archbishop Harry J.
Flynn and Archbishop John C. Nienstedt were well-aware of his proclivities
and, yet, failed to protect the children of Minnesota as duty and the law require.
Nienstedt, Flynn, and Co. also protected the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, 50, who was accused in 2012 of sexually abusing children.  The archdiocese knew for more than a decade that Wehmeyer had issues with sexual compulsion yet kept him in the ministry and failed to warn parishioners, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio, which cited Haselberger and dozens of other interviews and documents. Wehmeyer is now serving a five-year prison term for sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography.  Wehmeyer, who studied industrial design and technology at Northern Michigan University, was ordained in 2000 at the age of 36.

One would think that Kueppers would reconsider his attitude toward victims of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters.  But that is not the case.

Nienstedt, Flynn, and Co. promote a warped and radical view of what it means to protect children and the vulnerable.  Nienstedt would rather attempt to rehabilitate “Father X” as a preacher and teacher rather than follow the law.  Apparently eight years out of the limelight is enough penance for someone who preys on the vulnerable, which allows parish bulletins to announce “Father X”
is back.

As a result, Nienstedt continues be just another depraved and quarrelsome player in this hierarchy of criminals.  His pedophile mindset reveals a lack of judgment or interest is serving justice:  what we call doing the right thing.  Instead he nurtures a deep-rooted culture of abuse that allows his staff to brandish a venom that antagonizes and tortures so many in the community.

Nienstedt’s credibility is no longer in question.  He is proven to be a man without integrity or honor.

Kueppers’ association with such public figures is as sad as it is sordid.  But, then, even unspeakable criminal behavior has access to legal strategy and image making:  a picture-perfect scenario for someone like Chris Christie or Anthony Weiner (aka Carlos Danger) and now the game plan of the American bishops. 

Finding excuses and concealing information of a crime tend toward a prison sentence.  But we doubt is anything like that will happen.  Someone will cut a deal or decline to pursue charges.  No one will go to jail.  And this phase of the 40-year-old Minnesota scandal will continue to fester a little longer.

Meanwhile, we weep and feel not the dint of pity.

Further Reading:

We appealed to Archbishop Harry J. Flynn in 2001 to do
the right thing:  protect children and vulnerable adults
from sexual predators, as this St. Paul Pioneer-Press
column points out.  But the Flynn, and his successor,
John C. Nienstedt, continue to attack the very people
they promised to protect.

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