Archbishop John Nienstedt said a new allegation that he inappropriately touched a boy on the buttocks during a 2009 confirmation ceremony photo session is "absolutely and entirely false."
Nienstedt will voluntarily step aside from all public ministry while the matter is investigated, and the archbishop and Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis "stand ready to cooperate fully with the St. Paul police," a statement said.
St. Paul police scheduled a 3:30 p.m. news conference to discuss the case, but it was delayed slightly as Police Chief Tom Smith decided to make the announcement.
'ABSOLUTELY AND ENTIRELY FALSE'
"I do not know the individual involved; he has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false," Nienstedt wrote in a public response. "I have never once engaged in any inappropriate contact with a minor."
Read more: Letter from Archbishop Nienstedt regarding allegation
Nienstedt said he normally stands at photo sessions with one hand on his pastoral staff – called a crozier – and the other hand on either his chest or the right shoulder of the newly-confirmed child.
"I do that deliberately and there are hundreds of photographs to verify that fact," he said.
The archdiocese said they learned of the allegation last week from a mandatory reporter, who also brought the complaint to St. Paul police.
"The archdiocese is mindful of the due process concerns of those involved. There must be justice and due consideration of the rights and dignity of every human person, both the individual involved and the archbishop," the archdiocese said in a statement. "This is not only the bedrock of our beliefs as Catholics, but also of the justice system of our country."
ADDRESSING THE PAST
The allegation against Nienstedt comes just two days after his appearance at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Edina, where the archbishop addressed sexual misconduct by priests and the past failure to release the names those accused, admitting he "should have investigated it a lot more than [he] did."
"I have to stand before the community and say in all honesty that I can tell people there is no one in the ministry that will be a danger to their child," he said at a post-service news conference.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said its quick action and public response to the allegation against Archbishop Nienstedt "demonstrate and reaffirm the archdiocese's commitment to disclosure."
POLICE CONTEST 'COOPERATION' CLAIMS
At Tuesday's press conference, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith aired his frustrations with claims made by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that church officials have been fully cooperative.
"I want to let the public know one thing," Smith said. "Let me be very clear on this. We have -- through written and verbal requests -- made clear our desire to speak to individuals connected with the archdiocese, and we've been told, 'No.'"
Smith specifically mentioned the difficulty investigators have had contacting former Vicar General Kevin McDonough because repeated requests to speak with him have been denied by his attorney.
"In order for us to bring these cases to the next step in the process of concluding investigations and bring them to closure, we again now publicly call on those individuals to speak with us," Smith said. "That's why we are here today."
PARISHIONERS SKEPTICAL, PRAYING
Catholics who spoke with Fox 9 News regarding the latest allegation say they are suspicious of the timing of the latest claims, and many plan to continue supporting the archbishop until all the facts are in.