Did Archbishop John Nienstedt lie under oath? - KMSP-TV

Did Archbishop John Nienstedt lie under oath?

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Documents made public Monday by attorneys attempting to make the case that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is a public nuisance suggest Archbishop John Nienstedt gave false statements under oath about a priest who was accused of abusing minors.

The documents released by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson show that each year, Nienstedt was updated on Father Kenneth LaVan's continuing work and approved of it as recently as one year ago. Yet, in a sworn deposition on April 2, Nienstedt claimed he did not know until March of this year that the priest accused of sexually assaulting at least one 16-year-old girl in the 1980s was still active in ministry.

"I was not aware that he was publicly in ministry," Nienstedt said of LaVan, "and as soon as I realized it, I had his faculties removed."

While Nienstedt contends he learned of LaVan's continuing ministry during a review of clergy files ordered by the archdiocese, attorneys at Anderson's law office tell a different story -- one that alleges LaVan was removed to keep the case from surfacing amid increased media attention on the growing clergy sexual abuse scandal. Memos from 20 years ago show top church officials took steps to ensure the problem would not "blow up." In fact, some of the documents released Monday expose conversations between top church officials over allegations of harassment, sexual misconduct with married parishioners, "lavish" expenditures on lovers, and a diagnosis of "compulsive sexuality."

"The secret personnel file of Kenneth LaVan shows a pernicious 'blind spot' among Catholic officials at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: the stunning and heartless minimization of the sexual abuse of girls and women," attorneys wrote.

LaVan file details several 'sexual exploitation' claims

Before Nienstedt became archbishop in 2007, LaVan had already been the center of two settlements involving the church and his victims; however, he was still serving at St. Olaf in Minneapolis periodically until December 2013 despite the zero-tolerance stance the archdiocese has claimed to adhere to since 2002. That means LaVan spent 25 years with the church after he was first accused of sexually assaulting a teen, with more than 10 taking place after the church committed itself to rooting out priests with even one single sexual act involving a minor.

TIMELINE: Career of Father Kenneth LaVan

Church officials confirmed Monday that LaVan was also accused if inappropriate sexual relationships with adult women. One of the cases detailed in a church memo explains that a married, 17-year parishioner relocated to a different church after LaVan made sexual advances, exposed himself, and spent hundreds of dollars on phone calls. That same memo also includes allegations of harassment, including possible threats of burning the woman's house down and murdering her husband.


Archbishop John Nienstedt sent the following clarification regarding his knowledge of LaVan's status as a known sexual offender:

"If you read the document, dated 8/15/2013, carefully, you will notice that the allegation against Rev. LaVan is "sexual improprieties with several adult women". At the time, I was aware of those allegations with adult women, but was unaware of any other allegations. I signed off on a plan based on the allegations involving adult women.

I became aware of the allegations involving minors as part of a file review, and immediately removed him from any public ministry in December 2013. In the Doe 1 deposition, I said "I was not aware he was publicly in ministry" with allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. I knew he was in public ministry with allegations of being involved with adult women, but I was unaware of the allegations of child sexual abuse. As soon as I became aware, I removed him from public ministry."


Memo: 'Find a suitable cover story'

One memo from then-Archbishop John Roach dating back to August 1985 included the phrase, "If we don't want this to build into a real problem, it is my recommendation that we accept Father LaVan's resignation from the parish, find a suitable cover story and get him into a in-patient treatment program[sic]."

Nienstedt met socially with LaVan in 2013

Adding to the doubts over whether Nienstedt knew of LaVan's continued involvement in the church prior to March is MPR's report that the archbishop met with LaVan socially in Rochester in June 2013. Nienstedt also reportedly received an annual report on LaVan from a church official who monitors abusive priests and described face-to-face meetings about LaVan's assistance at "a few parishes in the metro area."

Late last month, Fox 9 News spoke with Nienstedt about the ongoing scandal and the calls for his resignation. At that time, he said he has no intention of leaving his post and believes he still has the moral authority to lead the church.

MORE: One-on-one with Archbishop John Nienstedt

Auxiliary bishop insists church practices have changed

After the documents were released, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens responded to say that the archdiocese disclosed in February that substantiated claims of sexual abuse had been made against LaVan, and confirmed that civil suits were settled in 1989 and 1992. Cozzens also said that under today's standards, police would have been notified immediately. The statement can be read in full below.

PDF: Regarding Kenneth LaVan

To access the documents released Monday, click here.

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