Napa County now home for John Nienstedt, Twin Cities archbishop who resigned under legal cloud

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Minnesota and then Michigan evidently grew too hot for John Nienstedt, a former Catholic archbishop who was accused of protecting predatory priests and who now cools his heels in Wine Country.

Nienstedt came far west after departing Minnesota under duress and stopping briefly in Michigan. A newspaper report out of Battle Creek earlier this year revealed that only two weeks after Nienstedt arrived and took a temporary church post there he “left amid a swirl of criticism.” Residents opposed to his assignment hounded the diocese and the media, and pulled tuition support for a school associated with the church, according to another news report.

His resignation in June of 2015 as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis came 10 days after prosecutors there filed criminal charges against the archdiocese that he ran since 2008, alleging “its failure to protect children.”

Earlier last year, in the midst of multiple lawsuits, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, citing “the scourge of sexual abuse of minors.”

Advocates for alleged victims of abuse by priests overseen by Nienstedt seek to have the former archbishop penalized and defrocked for what they say was a pattern of protecting Minnesota priests who preyed on children.

“Wrongdoing is deterred when wrongdoers are punished,” David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told a reporter in Minnesota. “But not one Twin Cities Catholic official is being punished — in the courts or in the church — for repeatedly deceiving parishioners, moving predators, hiding evidence, stone-walling police or endangering kids.”

HAVING MOVED ON on to the North Bay, Nienstedt now is doing work at the private Napa Institute, created by Orange County attorney and Meritage Resort & Spa owner Tim Busch. The institute’s declared mission is “to equip Catholic leaders to defend and advance the Catholic Faith in ‘the Next America’ — today’s emerging secular society.”

Nienstedt has presided over Mass at the chapel at Meritage, in Napa. Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which encompasses Napa County, is aware he’s here and said the resort chapel is “a suitable place for him to celebrate Mass.”

Vasa responded firmly to a question of how he knew Nienstedt was coming to this area.

“I talked to him, he told me,” Vasa said. “I talked to Mr. Tim Busch, he told me. I talked to (successor) Archbishop (Bernard) Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and he told me. So, that’s how I know.”

Vasa said Nienstedt is living in Napa County and that though he would not simply appear at a parish, there would be nothing to prevent him from presiding over Mass at a church in the diocese were a priest to invite him.

Vasa said Archbishop Hebda in Minneapolis told him Nienstedt is “a priest in good standing.”

“I have no concerns about him,” Vasa said.

In Minnesota last month, Hebda publicly confessed that the archdiocese mishandled allegations of the sexual abuse of three boys. With the admission, criminal prosecutors dropped a case that had charged the archdiocese with six counts of child endangerment for turning a blind eye to Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest now in prison.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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