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Viganò responds to abuse cover-up allegations

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has responded to claims he stopped an investigation into a prelate accused of “misconduct” with seminarians and helped cover up sexual abuse.

Archbishop Viganò denied the allegations, saying: “These accusations – that I would have ordered the two auxiliary bishops of Minneapolis to close the investigation on the life of Archbishop Nienstedt – are false.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis was accused misconduct with seminarians and of covering up sexual abuse.

Vatican reporter John Allen says that “according to a 2014 memo, first made public in 2016, Viganò as nuncio quashed an investigation” into Archbishop Nienstedt “going so far as demanding the evidence be destroyed”.

The accusations first appeared in a 2016 New York Times report, which said Viganò made the request in a meeting with two auxiliary bishops St Paul and Minneapolis.

Viganò has now responded to say that in April 2014 he received claims that Nienstedt had a relationship with a Swiss guard will working in the Vatican two decades previously.

He said private investigators working for law firm Greene Espel had conducted an investigation, however Viganò claims they were part of a “pro-same-sex marriage coalition”. He said the investigators conducted the inquiry in an “unbalanced” and “prosecutorial style”, wanting to speak to the Swiss guard without first speaking to Nienstedt.

“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 ordering the end of the inquiry or the destruction of any documents. “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,” he said.

The New York Times report is based on a memorandum by Fr Dan Griffith, who acted as a liaison to Greene Espel. According to the paper, Fr Griffith “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.’”

However, Viganò said Griffith was not present at the meeting. He also said Pope Francis ordered Archbishop Christophe Pierre – who succeeded Viganò as nuncio in 2016 – to open an investigation into the claims which vindicated his version of events.

American lawyer Jeffrey Lena, who conducted the investigation, acquired documents from the Congregation of Bishops that confirmed Viganò’s account, the former nuncio said. Lena then delivered his report to Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, however the Vatican did not issue a statement disputing the New York Times story. Viganò says the report is on file at the nunciature in Washington and at the secretariat of state in the Vatican.

Below is Archbishop Viganò’s full statement:

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.

These accusations – alleging that I ordered the two Auxiliary Bishops of Minneapolis to close the investigation into the life of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – are false.

Father Griffith was not present during my meeting at the Nunciature with the Archbishop and the two Auxiliaries on April 12, 2014, during which several affidavits containing accusations against Archbishop Nienstedt were handed to me.

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.

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.

Private investigators from the Greene Espel firm 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.

I suggested to the bishops who came to the Nunciature on April 12, 2014, that they 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.

But the following day, I received a letter signed by the two auxiliaries, falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be stopped.

I never told anyone that Greene Espel should stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document to be destroyed. Any statement to the contrary is false.

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.

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. (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.

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.

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.

The Nunciature also responded to Cardinal Parolin with a detailed report, which restored the truth and demonstrated that my conduct had been absolutely correct.

This report is found in the Vatican Secretariat of State and at the Nunciature in Washington, DC.

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.