By: Randy Engel
The Strange Case of Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt:
Part III —A Rebuttal to Carlo Viganò on the Nienstedt Case
On August 26, 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Papal Nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016, issued a “Statement by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò regarding the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis,” on his (non)role in the notorious Nienstedt Case – a case which I have documented in Part I and Part II of this series, and which first appeared in The Catholic Inquisitor (July and August 2018).
For the record, Parts I and II of this series were researched in the early spring of 2018 and sent for publication in June of 2018, that is, before the Viganò controversy exploded in the Catholic press in late August. The timing for my Nienstedt exposé appears to have been fortuitous for me but not for Viganò.
I say this because Part II concludes with a segment on Mr. Tim Busch, founder of the Opus Dei-friendly Napa Institute which gave the disgraced Archbishop Nienstedt succor and a job after his forced resignation from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on June 15, 2015.
On September 5, 2018, the Napa Institute issued a statement titled, “Letter from Tim Busch Regarding Archbishop Viganò Testimony,” in which Busch states that he has known Viganò for eight years, but that, contrary to “erroneous media speculation,” he played no role in the drafting of Viganò’s original testimony. Busch’s statement continues:
I was in touch with Archbishop Viganò several weeks ago to inquire about his involvement in the 2014 Saint Paul -Minneapolis investigation [the code phrase for the Nienstedt scandal] referenced in the shorter statement he (Viganò) released on August 27 , 2018, a couple days after his 11-page testimony. Our discussion did not involve the contents of the 11-page testimony that he released on August 25, 2018.
A brief deciphering of Busch’s explanation is that in mid-summer of 2018, after “The Strange Case of Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt,” appeared in The Catholic Inquisitor, Busch had dis-invitedNienstedt off the Napa Institute campus and sent out a Napa Institute media release to that effect.
Was his call to Viganò made before or after Busch had canceled Nienstedt’s job at the Napa Institute? We don’t know from Busch’s statement.
What we do know is that Viganò was sufficiently upset by TheCatholic Inquisitor’sseries on Nienstedt to issue his own version of his (non)role in the Nienstedt affair one day after he published his lengthy testimony on the McCarrick scandal.
This third installment of my series on the Nienstedt scandal specifically addresses and challenges the former nuncio’s two-page August 26th statement on the extent and nature of his involvement in the Nienstedt Case.
Please note that I have not yet completed my research on the content of Vigano’s 11-page Testimony of August 25th which ends with a call for Pope Francis’ resignation and the circumstances which brought about the publication of Viganò’s testimony. I will be tackling that subject in Part IV of this series. And please, do not attempt to use my articles on the Nienstedt case to in any way defend the words and deeds of the current occupant of the Chair of Peter for which there is no defense.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Vigano’s commentary on the Nienstedt affair.
Viganò Opening Salvo Against Father Daniel Griffith
It is interesting to note that the title for the document in question, “Statement by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò regarding the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis,” does not mention Nienstedt’s name, even though the main subject of the text is the alleged role he (Viganò) played in the termination of an internal (secret) investigation initiated and funded by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis into accusations of homosexual solicitation and seduction of seminarians and others by Archbishop Nienstedt.
Viganò’s statement appears to be hastily and sloppily put together. Certain sections are incoherent.
If the reader was not already acquainted with the details of the Nienstedt investigation(s) which started in the fall of 2013 and ended in the winter of 2015, while Viganò was the Papal nuncio to the United States, his opening paragraph would not make much sense:
Accusations against my person appeared in the media – in July 2016, when I had already left my mission in Washington, D.C. – following the publication of a memorandum written by Father Dan Griffith, the then delegate for the protection of minors in the Archdiocese. (¶ 1)
What was Fr. Griffith’s special role in the investigation of Nienstedt? What specific memorandum written by Father Griffith is Viganò referring to? When and why was the memorandum written? Who made the memorandum public? He doesn’t say, but readers can access the 11-page smoking gun memo on the Ramsey County website.
Viganò then cuts to the chase:
These accusations – alleging that I ordered the two Auxiliary Bishops of Minneapolis [Bishop Lee Piché, ordained by Nienstedt who headed the internal investigation, and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, also ordained by Nienstedt, who was second in command] to close the investigation into the life of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – are false. (¶ 2)
Father Griffith was not present during my meeting at the Nunciature with the Archbishop [no one ever said he was] and the two Auxiliaries on April 12, 2014, during which several affidavits containing accusations against Archbishop Nienstedt were handed to me. (¶ 3)
So, Father Daniel Griffith is one of the main villains in the Viganò/Nienstedt scenario. For the record, Griffith was also appointed by Archbishop Nienstedt as Archdiocesan Delegate for Safe Environment (DSE) for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in August 2013. He holds an J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law; a M.A. in Theology and a M. Div., from the University of St. Thomas, and he served as the liaison between the law firm engaged to investigate the accusations against Nienstedt and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 2014.
Viganò Slams the Greene Espel Law Firm
The second major villain is the statement is the prestigious St. Paul law firm of Greene Espel, and its two lead lawyers in the first Nienstedt investigation – Matthew Forsgren and David Wallace-Jackson.
According to Viganò:
These affidavits were collected by the firm, Greene Espel, who was retained by Father Griffith on behalf of the Archdiocese to investigate Archbishop Nienstedt. This firm belongs to the group “Lawyers for All Families,” who fought against Archbishop Nienstedt over the approval of same-sex marriage in the State of Minnesota. (¶ 4)
This single paragraph is grossly inaccurate.
Let’s start with the selection of the law firm of Greene Espel which was retained, that is hired and paid for, by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis [not Griffith] to investigate the accusations against Nienstedt.
In January 2014, there were a series of meetings held by Chancery officials (including Piché, Cozzens, and Griffith) that centered upon the selection of a law firm to carry out the Nienstedt investigation in a “thorough and discreet” manner.
Joseph F. Kueppers, the Archdiocesan Chancellor for Civil Affairs and Fr. Griffith submitted an initial list of law firms and legal candidates to Nienstedt’s criminal defense attorney, Jon M. Hopeman, but Hopeman rejected most of them. Hopeman, in turn, sent an e-mail to Kueppers listing his three choices, one of which was Matthew Forsgren of Greene Espel.
Griffith asked Brian Wenger, an outside attorney for the Archdiocese, who had worked with Forsgren at the law firm of Briggs and Morgan, if Forsgren was a good choice and Wenger affirmed that he was. Shortly after this conversation took place, Griffith found out that Forsgren was a supporter of Lawyers United for all Families, a pro-homosexual group favoring same-sex “marriage” (which Archbishop Nienstedt had vigorously publicly opposed in 2012). Griffith made another call to Wenger who said he still believed that Forsgren could still carry out an impartial internal investigation. Later, that same January, Griffith called Forsgren himself. The latter explained that he had clients on both sides of the issue, and he believed that he could conduct a fair investigation. Forsgren then wrote to Nienstedt’s attorney, Mr. Hopeman, and explained that he believed he could carry out the task in question without prejudice.
One month later, in February 2014, Forsgren, and another Greene Espel attorney, Wallace-Jackson, were approved and hired by the Archdiocese to determine if the allegations against Nienstedt were true or false. Neither the Archbishop nor his attorney Hopeman, who initially proposed Forsgren as a suitable candidate, objected to the selection at the time of the hiring.
So why is Viganò complaining now?
In one of these affidavits, it was claimed that Archbishop Nienstedt had had an affair with a Swiss Guard during his service in the Vatican some twenty years prior . (¶ 5)
Private investigators from the Greene Espelfirm had conducted an inquiry in an unbalanced and prosecutorial style, and now wanted immediately to extend their investigation to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, without first hearing Archbishop Nienstedt. (¶ 6)
The former nuncio appears to have his timetable confused.
Nienstedt served as a minor official, Second Grade, at the Vatican Secretariat of State from 1980 to 1985. Viganò should have known the dates by heart, as that is where the future nuncio met the upward- bound Nienstedt, and the two men became fast friends.
By 1998, Nienstedt had already been serving as an auxiliary bishop of Detroit for two years.
As for Viganò’s charge that the Greene Espel attorneys conducted their internal investigation in an “unbalanced and prosecutorial style,” there were at least a half-dozen Chancery officials, men and women, including several lawyers, who were privy to the internal workings of the Nienstedt inquiry, and none ever voiced an opinion that Forsgren and or Wallace-Jackson ever acted in an unprofessional manner. Although Nienstedt’s attorney, Hopeman, was said to have insulted and cursed the Greene Espel team on at least one occasion.
Further, following standard investigative protocols for internal inquiries of this nature, the attorneys for Greene Espel were scheduled to interview Archbishop Nienstedt and his witnesses, and they did, in fact, interview Nienstedt twice before they were dismissed from the case. So, this was by no means a kangaroo court proceeding.
I’ll be returning to the Swiss Guard accusations shortly.
At this point, Viganò gets to the crux of his statement – his denial that he ordered the termination of the Greene Espel investigation.
I suggested to the bishops who came to the Nunciature on April 12, 2014, that they tell the Greene Espellawyers that it appeared to me appropriate that Archbishop Nienstedt be heard before taking this step – audiatur et altera pars– which they had not yet done. The bishops accepted my suggestion. (¶ 7)
But the following day, I received a letter signed by the two auxiliaries, falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be stopped. (¶ 8)
I never told anyone that Greene Espelshould stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document to be destroyed. Any statement to the contrary is false. (¶ 9)
However, I did instruct one of the auxiliary bishops, Lee A. Piché, to remove from the computer and the archdiocesan archives the letter falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be halted. I insisted on this not only to protect my name, but also that of the Nunciature and the Holy Father who would be unnecessarily harmed by having a false statement used against the Church. (¶ 10)
Please note that Vigano’s plea to Piché to “let the other side be heard” in the Nienstedt case was without cause as the lead lawyers for Greene Espel had already planned to interview Nienstedt and his witnesses as part of their in-depth investigation, and in fact, did interview the Archbishop twice before their services were terminated by the Archdiocese on July 2, 2014.
Furthermore, Viganò verified that he received the Piché and Cozzens’ letter “falsely asserting that I [he] had suggested the investigation be stopped” on April 13, 2014. He claims to have responded by making it clear that he “never told anyone that Greene Espel should stop the inquiry.” If this is true, why did Bishop Piché terminate the legal firm’s services in July 2014; something he was clearly against doing?
Meeting with Nuncio was a Mistake
In retrospect, the decision by a consensus of Chancery officials less than mid-way into the Nienstedt investigation that BishopPiché, the Chair, and Bishop Cozzens, the Co-Chair of the inquiry, and the accused, Archbishop Nienstedt, visit Viganò at the Papal Nunciature in Washington, D.C., was a disastrous decision for all parties involved.
Not every Chancery official was in favor of such a meeting, however. One official who is an Associate Judge and Canonist vocally opposed the move stating that the nuncio would bury the inquiry, which, for all practical purposes, Viganò eventually did. She wanted the final Greene Espel report sent directly to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.
As stated above, on April 12, 2018, Piché and Cozzens met with Viganò first, and presented the nuncio with ten affidavits that the Greene Espel lawyers had taken from ten “credible” witnesses whose testimony, taken under oath, affirmed Nienstedt’s homosexual history. It is unknown if this meeting was taped.
After the meeting ended, Piché placed a call to Griffith and told him that he believed a “pastoral” solution was on the horizon.
Nienstedt then met with Viganò. Again, we don’t know if their conversation was taped or if the nuncio gave the Archbishop a copy of the affidavits he received. Nienstedt was already aware of the charges against him prior to leaving the Chancery, although he may not yet have known all the names of his accusers.
As far as this writer can piece together the next sequence of events following the return of Nienstedt and his auxiliaries to the Archdiocese involves at least two private phone calls between Viganò andPiché, and follow-up calls between Viganò and Nienstedt, and the explosive computer-generated letter from Piché and Cozzens to the nuncio.
In the first phone call, it is alleged that Viganò told Piché, in so many words, that he wanted to see the ongoing Nienstedt investigation brought to a quick end and the matter terminated. Period.
Did Viganò make this decision on his own or did his orders come from above?
The first scenario, that Viganò acted on his own is suspect, as any formal investigation into an alleged homosexual affair between Nienstedt and a Pontifical Swiss guard would by its nature implicate the Vatican in yet another scandal. Still, it is possible that he did act on his own. Perhaps Viganòcan enlighten us on this important question.
In any case, the very next day after they returned from Washington, D.C., the two auxiliaries responded with a computer-generated letter to the nuncio explaining that they both opposed his directive to terminate the Greene Espel query since this action could be (and would be) construed as a cover-up.
One can only imagine the reaction of Viganò to the challenge of his authority by underlings like Piché and Cozzens. But times have changed. Today, priests and religious are more aware of the potential liabilities associated with attempts to cover-up or white wash clerical sexual abuse cases not only of minors but of vulnerable adults including seminarians.
In a follow-up communication to the auxiliaries that followed their e-mail correspondence, the nuncio denied that he ever issued an order to close the investigation. And somewhere along the line he is alleged to have also told Piché to destroy their letter which he said “falsely” accused him of issuing such an order.
Piché and Cozzens, of course, were both aware that the doctoring of evidence as well as the destruction of evidence could be a felony and they acted accordingly.
In his August 26, 2018 statement, Viganò frankly admits that he instructed Piché “to remove from the computer and the archdiocesan archives the letter falsely asserting that I (he) had suggested the investigation be halted,” which, in pretty much any language, suggests the communication was to disappear, aka, be destroyed.
Obviously, some kind of “compromise” or “clarification” of Viganò’s orders was reached between Piché and Cozzens and the nuncio, and alternative plans were discussed.
Ultimately, Viganò achieved his goal. He successfully engineered the demise of the Greene Espel investigation and opened the door to the Wold investigation. Here is a timetable of significant events related to these duel misadventures:
- Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014 –Piché and Griffith meet with Wallace-Jackson of Greene Espel to explain that the law firm’s original mandate has been truncated and the investigation is now to be strictly limited to evidence that Nienstedt was guilty of “a grave delict.” Piché explains that Viganò wants the investigation wrapped up quickly and the nuncio is opposed to the law firm following up any further leads, which would include the charge that Nienstedt had a homosexual relationship with a Swiss Guard while working in Rome. Wallace-Jackson is adamant that his law firm will not be part of any “cover-up.”
- July 2, 2014 –Piché issues official letter terminating the legal services of Greene Espel. He asks lawyers to prepare a final report on their findings. Griffith, who was outside the Piché information loop, gives permission for the law firm to interview a key witness – Canonist Jennifer Haselberger.
- July 7, 2014 – Griffith, a lawyer in his own right, issues his “Smoking Gun” internal memorandum to Piché with cc. to Cozzens. Later that month he resigns as Delegate for Safe Environment.
- July 29, 1014 –Greene Espel provides Piché with a truncated final report on Nienstedt.
Neither Griffith nor Greene Espel is aware that secret plans are in motion for the Archdiocese to hire a new law firm more favorable to Nienstedt. The news that the Archdiocese had hired the high-powdered criminal defense attorney Peter Wold by mid-October 2014 to continue the Nienstedt investigation, is kept secret until December 2014.
- October 31, 2014 – Bishops Piché and Cozzens are received by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouelet, to discuss the wrap up of the Nienstedt case which Piché miscalculates will end in early December 2014.
During the previous week, both bishops had cordially met with Viganò in Baltimore at the plenary assembly of the USCCB. They bring the nuncio up to date on the matter and give him confidential documents related to the Wold investigation.
The Archdiocese, however, refuses to turn over copies of the Greene Espel and Wold reports to the Ramsey County Attorney Office (RCAO) citing attorney-client privilege.
- January 16, 2015 – Archbishop Nienstedt, Corporate Sole, files for Chapter 11 in Bankruptcy Court in St. Paul.
In early 2015, Viganò receives copies of both the Wold and Greene Espel reports and is asked for advice on whether the Nienstedt matter should be referred to Rome for some kind of canonical review or other determination.
- June 5, 2015 – RCAO files criminal charges and a civil petition against Archdiocese for mishandling of the Father Curtis Wehmeyer Case, and its subsequent failure to protect three young brothers from Wehmeyer, who was a close friend of Nienstedt.
- June 15, 2015 – Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché resign. The Vatican accepts their resignations.
Coadjutor of Newark, Bernard Hebda is appointed Apostolic Administrator for Archdiocese. He is installed as Archbishop on March 24, 2016.
- December 2015 –RCAO settles civil suit.
- April 12, 2016 – Nuncio Viganò is retired from office.
- July 20, 2016 – RCAO drops criminal charges in exchange for a litany of security provisions agreed to by the Archdiocese.
Viganò’s Costly Miscalculations
Viganò’s first grave error was his belief that Piché and Cozzens would blindly obey his alleged directive to terminate the Greene Espel investigation into Nienstedt’s long history of homosexual activity.
His second gross miscalculation was his belief that that his attempt to terminate the Greene Espel investigation and remove the offending Piché and Cozzens electronic communication from Archdiocesan computer files would never be revealed given the secret nature of the Nienstedt internal investigation.
I think it is important for the reader to understand that it was not the Archdiocesan/Greene Espel investigation we are discussing that forced Nienstedt’s resignation and brought the cover-up charges down upon Viganò’s head, but rather the decision of the Ramsey County Attorney Office (RCAO) to rescind its criminal charges against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis on July 20, 2016, and the subsequent decision by Attorney and Chief Prosecutor John J. Choi to release numerous public documents pertaining to Nienstedt’s homosexual proclivities, including Griffith’s smoking gun memo of July 7, 2014, which made reference to Viganò’s alleged role in the sordid affair.
Also, included among the documents released by Choi, was data supporting the charge that Nienstedt had lied twice under oath (a grave delict/felony) when he gave his deposition to RCAO on his knowledge of the Father Kenneth LaVan sex abuse case and again in the Father Gilbert Gustafson case.
In his concluding remarks to his August 26, 2018 statement, Viganò explains what happened when RCAO released the Griffith 11-page confidential memorandum to the public:
The very day the news appeared in the New York Times, on July 21, 2016, the Holy Father asked Cardinal Parolin to phone the Nuncio in Washington, D.C. (Archbishop Christophe Pierre), ordering that an investigation into my conduct be opened immediately, so that I could be reported to the tribunal in charge of judging abuse cover-up by bishops. (¶ 11)
I informed the Vatican Press Office in the persons of Father Lombardi and Mr. Greg Burke. With the authorization of the Substitute of the Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Becciu, Mr. Jeffrey Lena – an American lawyer working for the Holy See – went to the Congregation for Bishops where he found documents proving that my conduct had been absolutely correct. (¶ 12)
Mr. Lena handed a written report exonerating me to the Holy Father. In spite of this, the Vatican Press Office did not deem it necessary to release a statement refuting the New York Times article. (¶ 13)
The Nunciature also responded to Cardinal Parolin with a detailed report, which restored the truth and demonstrated that my conduct had been absolutely correct. (¶ 14)
This report is found in the Vatican Secretariat of State and at the Nunciature in Washington, D.C. (¶ 15)
On January 28, 2017, I wrote to both Archbishop Pierre and Archbishop Hebda (who had succeeded Nienstedt), asking them to publicly correct the Griffith memorandum. In spite of repeated emails and phone calls, I never heard back from them. (¶ 16)
Time to Clear the Air
Diplomatic obscurations aside, to what specific “conduct” is Viganò referring to when he twice asserts that there are official documents at the Holy See that prove his conduct in the Nienstedt affair had been “absolutely correct?”
What Viganò needs to do first is to clarify if he was acting under orders from the Vatican to bring the Archdiocesan/Greene Espel investigation to a halt in which case he can claim he was simply following orders. Or if he issued the directive to terminate the investigation based upon his belief that his friend, Archbishop Nienstedt, was innocent of the charges assigned to him or was being “unfairly” persecuted by Greene Espel lawyers “egged on” by Fr. Griffith.
Also, surely, at least one of the three point-men in this controversy have saved copies of the infamous Piché and Cozzens letter sent to the nuncio on April 13, 2014. Let’s see it!
And I believe that, if pressed hard enough, Nunciature officials can provide recordings of any subsequent phone conversations Viganò had with Piché as well as Nienstedt concerning the Greene Espel investigation and its demise. Let’s hear them!
And, isn’t it about time the long suffering sheeple of the Archdiocese Saint Paul and Minneapolis demand Archbishop Hebda release both the Greene Espel and Wold reports? After all, they paid over one-half million dollars in “offerings” for the pair of investigations. Let’s read them!
In conclusion, papal nuncios have long played a decisive role in the handling or mishandling, aka “cover-up” of clerical sex abuse cases around the world. So, the role I believe Viganò played in the Nienstedt case is not an exception but the rule.
The ball is now in Viganò’s court.
Contact for Randy Engel is firstname.lastname@example.org.