Statement Regarding Inaccurate Reports About LaVan File

From Archbishop John Nienstedt

Earlier this week, the priest file of Kenneth LaVan was released publicly and two media outlets reported inaccurate information based on the information in the file. I’d like to address the fact errors:

  1. It was reported:

        “Documents made public Monday in a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis show that Archbishop John Nienstedt made false statements under oath in April about his knowledge of a priest accused of child sexual abuse.

        Nienstedt said in an April 2 deposition that he didn’t know until March that a priest accused in the 1980s of sexually assaulting at least one teenage girl and “sexually exploiting” several women was still in ministry, a violation of church policy.

        “I was not aware that he was publicly in ministry,” Nienstedt said, referring to the Rev. Kenneth LaVan. “And as soon as I realized it, I had his faculties removed.” Though retired, LaVan continued to assist with Masses at Twin Cities parishes until he was formally removed from all ministry in December 2013. Nienstedt said he learned of LaVan’s continuing ministry as part of a review of clergy files conducted by the Kinsale Group, a firm hired by the archdiocese.

        However, documents released Monday show that, year after year, the archbishop received updates on LaVan and approved his continuing work at Twin Cities parishes, as recently as Aug. 15, 2013.

        For example, Nienstedt received an annual report on LaVan in 2013 from a church official who monitors abusive priests. The monitor described “two face to face contacts” with LaVan over the past year and noted that LaVan assists at “a few parishes in the metro area when asked,” primarily St. Olaf in Minneapolis.

        Nienstedt reviewed the information and approved the arrangement for another year.”

In the document I reviewed on August 15, 2013, the allegation against Rev. LaVan was “sexual improprieties with several adult women.”  At the time, I was aware of those allegations with adult women, but was unaware of any other allegations. I signed off on a plan based on the allegations involving adult women.

I only became aware of the allegations involving minors as part of a file review, and immediately removed him from any public ministry in December 2013.  In the Doe 1 deposition, I stated, “I did discover that there was a priest who had offended who retired, but continued periodically to celebrate mass on weekends, and I was not aware of his presence and I was not aware that he was publicly in ministry. And as soon as I realized it, I had his faculties removed.”  I was trying to convey that I was not aware that there was priest who had offended against minors in public ministry until the file review.  I was not aware Rev. LaVan was publicly in ministry with allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. I knew he was in public ministry with allegations of being involved with adult women, but I was unaware of the allegations of child sexual abuse.  As soon as I became aware, I removed him from public ministry.

  1. It was reported:

        “The documents also indicate that Nienstedt had spent time socially with LaVan. On June 24, 2013, Nienstedt wrote a letter to the accused priest: “I write to thank you and Father Custodio for your gift of the Wild Turkey that you gave me in Rochester. That was very thoughtful of you. I will remember the two of you when I consume the contents.”

The Presbyterate, made up of all priests with the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, meet every two years. In 2013, our meeting was in Rochester. Rev. LaVan and another priest gave me a gift during that conference. To say I met socially with him is to imply more than a few minutes spent accepting a gift at a conference with hundreds of other priests.

I have contacted the appropriate reporters and have asked them to update their stories to reflect the accurate information.

In addition, and in advance of the stories, Bishop Andrew Cozzens also released a statement to reporters that, in February 2014, we disclosed that there were substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor against Kenneth LaVan. Then in March, 2014, we publicly released the following additional information, which was reported in the media at the time:

(T)he archdiocese received reports in 1988 that he had abused two girls between 1958 and 1970. In 1989 and 1992, the archdiocese settled civil suits brought by the two victims. The archdiocese removed LaVan from ministry in early 1989 and required him to undergo treatment. After completion of treatment he was returned to parish ministry at St. Joseph in Lino Lakes with monitoring. LaVan retired in January 1998, but continued to provide limited assistance at St. Olaf in Minneapolis (and other parishes as requested) until December 2013. LaVan has also been accused of inappropriate sexual relationships with adult women.

Under today’s standards and protocols, if we receive similar allegations regarding a priest, we would immediately call the police.

In addition, we have changed the way we use psychological treatment for priests. We consider it a way to get an understanding of their mental health. A priest who has sexually abused a child may indeed receive treatment, but would not be considered again for ministry, no matter what progress he might make in treatment.

We apologize for the harm caused by some of our priests, and ask for forgiveness from sexual abuse victims/survivors, their families and their friends.