In an August 26th written statement seen by some media outlets, including CWR, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò responded to reports that he ordered a stop to an investigation of then-Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Viganò flatly denies these assertions, stating, “These accusations – that I would have ordered the two auxiliary bishops of Minneapolis to close the nvestigation on the life of archbishop Nienstedt – are false.”
The charges against Vigano have circulated for years but his recent criticism of an alleged Vatican and U.S. Catholic coverup of Archbishop McCarrick’s reported sexual misconduct have brought the charges back into general discussion.
According to veteran Vatican reporter John Allen, Jr., in an August 27th CRUX article, “Viganò arguably undercut his credibility by not dealing with his own record on the abuse issue.” Allen then summarizes the central criticism:
According to a 2014 memo, first made public in 2016, Viganò as nuncio quashed an investigation – going as far as demanding that evidence be destroyed – into then-Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was being investigated for misconduct with seminarians as well as cover-up of sexual abuse. In 2015, Nienstedt stepped down as head of the archdiocese.
Viganò, in his statement, says that in April 2014 he was given affidavits containing accusations that Nienstedt had an affair with a member of the Swiss guard while serving in the Vatican two decades ago. Viganò says that an inquiry had been conducted by private investigators who were working for a Minneapolis law firm, Greene Espel, that was part of a pro-“same-sex marriage” coalition. According to Vigano, the inquiry had been was conducted in a manner he deemed “unbalanced” and with a “prosecutorial style”. The investigators, Viganò says, wished to immediately investigate the pontifical Swiss guard without first interviewing Nienstedt. Viganò says he suggested that Nienstedt be first heard out before further steps be taken: “To the bishops who came at the nunciature on April 12, 2014 I suggested to tell the Greene Espel lawyers 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.”
Viganò denies that he said the inquiry should stop or that any documents be destroyed: “I never told anyone that Greene Espel should stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document be destroyed: any statement to the contrary is false.”
On July 20, 2016, the New York Timespublished a story by Laurie Goodstein and Richard Pérez-Peña that reported Viganò had “quashed an independent investigation in 2014 into sexual and possible criminal misconduct by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis and ordered church officials to destroy a letter they wrote to him protesting the decision, according to a memo made public on Wednesday.” The memo in question was written by Fr. Dan Griffith who, the Times reported, “wrote that the ambassador’s order to call off the investigation and destroy evidence amounted to ‘a good old fashioned cover-up to preserve power and avoid scandal.'”
Viganò, in his statement, says that Griffith was not present at the meeting at the nunciature, which included the archbishop and the two auxiliary bishops. It was Griffith, writes Viganò, who had retained Greene Espel to investigate Nienstedt on behalf of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
The Times, in its 2014 report, stated, “The document offers a grave indictment of the conduct of the Vatican’s ambassador, and will probably put pressure on Pope Francis to discipline him and Archbishop Nienstedt.” Viganò states that on July 21, 2016, the nuncio in Washington, DC, Archbishop Christophe Pierre—who had succeeded Viganò three months prior after Viganò had reached the traditional retirement age of 75—was ordered by Pope Francis, via Cardinal Parolin, to immediately open an investigation into Viganò’s alleged coverup.
Viganò says that an American lawyer, Mr. Jeffrey Lena, working for the Holy See, acquired documents from the Congregation for Bishops upholding Viganò’s account of events. Mr. Lena delivered a report to Pope Francis, according to Viganò, but the Vatican did not make any statement refuting what was reported by the New York Times. Viganò further says that a report was also given by the nunciature to Cardinal Parolin, and that report is on file at the Secretariat of State and at the nunciature in Washington, DC.
Viganò concludes by stating that he asked both Archbishop Pierre and Archbishop Hebda to correct Griffith’s memo: “On January 28, 2017 I wrote to both Archbishop Pierre and to Archbishop Hebda (who had succeeded Nienstedt) asking them to publicly correct the memorandum of father Griffith. In spite of repeated emails and phone calls, I never heard back from them.”