Bad Religion

The Anti-Gay Archbishop Who Can’t Stay Out of Trouble

Allegations that he had multiple sexual relationships with men are just the most recent in a long line of unseemly accusations against Minneapolis’s notoriously anti-gay archbishop.

There may be something to be said for the theory that anger and hate stem from an individual recognizing in others a quality that they themselves possess, but don’t want to. One of the Catholic church's most vocal opponents of homosexuality is currently under investigation after allegations that he had multiple sexual relationships with priests, seminarians, and other men.

Minnesota archbishop John Nienstedt, 67, has spent years advocating against gay marriage. In 2013, speaking to a starry-eyed crowd at the Napa Institute, he said: “Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life. Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.”

Nienstedt—he of the dramatic side-part and deer-in-the-headlights gaze—warned that “Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of the good, solid society, as well as the future of God's work on earth.”

Beyond allegedly engaging in sexual behavior completely at odds with everything he purports to believe, Nienstedt is said to have punished those who turned him down. Commonweal, the Catholic magazine that broke the story of the investigation, quoted Jennifer Haselberger, a former top canon lawyer for the archbishop, saying he “also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”

Nienstedt has denied the allegations made against him, and claims to have authorized the internal investigation of his behavior. “The allegations do not involve any minors,” he assured in a statement.

Not that he is a noted protector of children. In April, he testified about his knowledge—or rather, his efforts to look as though he had no knowledge—of the sexual abuse of children in the church.

Nienstedt was not only alleged to have failed to report charges of criminal sexual behavior, but also to have taken steps to to hide the existence of such allegations altogether. Twin Cities law enforcement accused Nienstedt of failing to cooperate with investigators. The controversy caused Nienstedt’s top aide, Rev. Peter Laird, to quit after his suggestion that the archbishop resign was dismissed.

As if that were not enough, in December of 2013, Nienstedt was accused of inappropriately touching a boy while posing for a confirmation photo. (Nienstedt was returned to duty in March after a police investigation found no evidence he committed the crime.)

Of course, Nienstedt is one of the most fervently anti-gay religious figures around.

In 2006, he wrote a column devoted to warning Catholics against Brokeback Mountain, which he said was an example of Hollywood turning “their backs on God and the standards of God in their quest to make evil look so attractive." (Too attractive, perhaps, for Nienstedt to resist).

In 2010, Nienstedt launched a mail campaign to spread the warning that Catholics should “exercise caution” around gay people. Over 400,000 DVDs were mailed to Catholics in Minnesota, containing within them the message that "so called same-sex marriage is an untested social experiment" at best, and a "dangerous risk with potentially far-reaching consequences at worst."

And 2012, Nienstedt reportedly donated over $650,000 of church money to block gay marriage in Minnesota.

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The anti-gay movement seems to be holding on for dear life. And with representatives like Nienstedt, who needs enemies?