St. Paul Police Reviewing Archbishop Deposition

Updated: 04/23/2014 9:30 AM By: Megan Stewart

Archbishop John Nienstedt during the four hour deposition on April 2.
Archbishop John Nienstedt during the four hour deposition on April 2.

Archbishop John Nienstedt
Archbishop John Nienstedt
Photo: Photo: KSTP File Photo

Archbishop John Nienstedt, the head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, had not known of any credibly-accused priests serving in the ministry because he took his staff's advisement at word and did not look at any documentation, according to a court-ordered deposition made public Tuesday.

In the deposition, Nienstedt said he was aware of a list of credibly-accused offenders when he was appointed archbishop in 2008, but nothing was written down in meetings with the delegate for safe environments and staff.

"I met with my staff and they affirmed for me the fact that there was no one in ministry who had credibly abused any children," Nienstedt said.

Nienstedt said at some point Father Kevin McDonough had told him not to write "certain" items down in the event of an investigation. The archbishop admitted he had followed the advice.

A review of files by an outside firm found a clergy sexual abuse offender had slipped through the cracks of the archdiocese.

"Just in the last month, I did discover that there was a priest who had offended who retired but continued periodically to celebrate Mass on weekends," Nienstedt said.

Nienstedt said during a file review by outside firm Kinsale, Father Kenneth LeVan was discovered to still be attending Mass. LeVan had been credibly accused of sexually abusing at least two girls, according to files from more than a decade ago.

Nienstedt said he declined to say anything to the Catholic community and the public.

"He is out of ministry now," Nienstedt said. "So I don't see the point of making that announcement."

Later in the deposition, Nienstedt said he was shown images of possible child pornography on Father Jonathon Shelley's computer.

"I looked at those images and I could not tell whether they were adolescents or older," Nienstedt said.

Despite not knowing the ages of the individuals in the images, Nienstedt said he did not report the images to the police, but agreed that he was a mandatory reporter and therefore obligated to report possible instances of abuse to law enforcement.

Washington County Prosecutor Pete Orput said investigators found no evidence of a crime when they examined computer files that once belonged to Shelley.

It was the first time Nienstedt has had to answer questions under oath regarding the alleged sexual abuse of children by priests. Church lawyers tried for months to block the deposition on the grounds it is not relevant to a case that will go to trial in September, but a Ramsey County judge and the Minnesota Court of Appeals disagreed.

In the deposition, when asked if he thought the environment of the archdiocese is safe for children, Nienstedt responded, "I do."

Victim lawyer Mike Finnegan said during the news conference the deposition revealed major inaccuracies and problems within the archdiocese.

"It really reflects in real-time the problem that exists as it is today," Finnegan said. "This is not about what has been in the past. This is, and the deposition captures that I believe, a harsh reality that the promises and the pledges made by this Archbishop and his predecessors that the kids in our communities are safe are not true and have been broken."

The St. Paul Police Department said it is looking into the new information provided by the Nienstedt deposition and is considering its worth to the criminal investigation.

A statement from the Archdiocese released Wednesday, April 2, said the archbishop expressed regret for mistakes that were made in the past and assumed responsibility for mistakes that have been made since he became Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in 2008.

Read the full statement here.

Read the entire un-redacted transcript of the deposition of Archbishop Nienstedt that took place on April 2 in St. Paul.

Watch the deposition video here.

Archbishop Deposition by KSTPTV