Minnesota Archdiocese Faces Criminal Charges For Covering Up Child Sex Abuse

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been charged criminally for its role in covering up sexual abuse of children by Priests.

Catholic Abuse Scandal

The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been charged with criminal offenses related to the abuse of children by Catholic Priests by state prosecutors in Minnesota:

CHICAGO — Prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges on Friday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accusing church leaders of mishandling repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and failing to follow through on pledges to protect children and root out pedophile clergymen.

The charges and accompanying civil petition, announced by the Ramsey County prosecutor, John J. Choi, stem from accusations by three male victims who say that from 2008 to 2010, when they were under age, a local priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, gave them alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting them.

The criminal case amounts to a sweeping condemnation of the archdiocese and how its leaders have handled the abuse allegations — even after reforms were put in place by church leaders to increase accountability — and the charges are among the most severe actions taken by American authorities against a Catholic diocese.

“Today, we are alleging a disturbing institutional and systemic pattern of behavior committed by the highest levels of leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis over the course of decades,” Mr. Choi said in a statement.

Mr. Wehmeyer, 50, who was dismissed as a priest in March, was sentenced to five years in a Minnesota prison in 2013 for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography. He also has been charged with sex crimes in Wisconsin.

The six criminal charges filed Friday, misdemeanors with a maximum fine of $3,000 each, accused the archdiocese of failing to protect children. Mr. Choi also filed a civil petition against the archdiocese that he said was intended to provide legal remedies to prevent similar inaction from happening again.

The 44-page criminal complaint states that concerns about Mr. Wehmeyer date to the 1990s, when he was in seminary and supervisors suggested that his past sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse made him a poor candidate for the priesthood.

Fellow clergy members and parishioners voiced repeated concerns about Mr. Wehmeyer after his ordination in 2001, prosecutors said. The archdiocese allowed Mr. Wehmeyer to continue as a priest, and even placed him in charge of his own parish, despite learning about his attempts to pick up young men at bookstores and his encounters with law enforcement at known “cruising” spots where men were known to meet other men for anonymous sexual encounters.

The charging documents also say that archdiocese officials knew that Mr. Wehmeyer used a boys’ bathroom at a parish elementary school instead of the staff restroom; tried to give an elementary-age boy a tour of the rectory in violation of policy; and took camping trips with boys where some of the sexual abuse was said to have occurred.

The archdiocese placed Mr. Wehmeyer in a monitoring program for priests facing complaints of abuse or other problems, but prosecutors said in court documents that the supervision and follow-through was “lax or nonexistent.”

“The archdiocese’s failures have caused great suffering by the victims and their family and betrayed our entire community,” Mr. Choi said in his statement.

The Archdiocese has already been facing a rash of civil lawsuits from victims of abuse in the past that were made possible when the Minnesota legislature passed a law that opened up a three year time period during which such lawsuits could be filed notwithstanding the fact that they fell outside of otherwise applicable statutes of limitation. Additionally, this is hardly the first example of Diocesan official in the United States facing criminal charges related to the covering up of abuse by Priests. Nearly three years ago, a top official in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was convicted over his role in covering up  multiple instances of abuse by just one Priest and ultimately sentenced to six years in prison, although prosecutors in that case were unable to  Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who put the cover-up into motion. Later in 2012, a Catholic Priest in Kansas City was convicted for covering up abuse. Additionally, of course, there have been the tales of abuse in Ireland, in other American Diocese such as Los Angeles, and of the convictions of at least some Catholic Priests who have abused children in the past.

This case is unique in that it is one of the few times that Diocese itself has been charged with criminal acts, and while the charges in question are all misdemeanors that carry with them a maximum fine of $3,000 each, convictions would at the very least a highly symbolic step forward in the still ongoing process of dealing with an abuse scandal that has shocked Catholics around the world, scarred the reputation of the Church itself, and, of course, caused real and measurable harm to countless numbers of children. By all rights, there should probably be far more serious charges brought against the Diocesan officials who were actually involved in covering up abuse during their tenure, of course. The passage of time, though, has meant that many of those people have passed away and that the statute of limitations for those charges have lapsed long ago. This is a good step forward, though, and along with the ongoing civil claims that are still pending around the nation and the world, perhaps it will bring some sense of justice to what has been an immensely horrible tragedy.

Here are the charging documents:

Minnesota v. Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis by Doug Mataconis

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Religion, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    1) Let’s see how many Minneapolis church officials ‘retire’ to Rome with Boston’s Bernard Law in the next month or two.
    2) Let’s see if the Vatican lets them stay.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Bring on the lions!

  3. edmondo says:

    This case is unique in that it is one of the few times that Diocese itself has been charged with criminal acts, and while the charges in question are all misdemeanors that carry with them a maximum fine of $3,000 each,

    Maybe the Vatican should just make Denny Hastert the Archbishop of Minneapolis. He has $3.5 million in hush money put aside and he can claim it is a charitable donation to the Church. It’s a win-win in my book.

  4. Tony W says:

    Could be an interesting extradition hearing trying to get the pope here.

  5. Pinky says:

    an abuse scandal that has shocked Catholics around the world

    Sadly, no, it hasn’t. Active Catholics have known about certain priests for years, and they’ve tried to call attention to it. Here’s the part that people still don’t want to admit: some priests have an affair with an adult woman, and some priests assault young boys. There’s a very clear dividing line. Some priests fall once with a woman, often married, and establish a relationship, and some become predators of males at schools and choirs. The ongoing scandal is one of homosexual pedophilia (and ephebophilia, if you want to be technical) and fellow homosexuals covering it up.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    the still ongoing process of dealing with an abuse scandal that has shocked Catholics around the world,

    Not some Catholics, we aren’t shocked at all, we saw this, we knew this, we talked about it, we f***in lived it, and we don’t for a second buy the assertion that the majority had no idea because we watched them bury their heads in the sand, stick their fingers in their ears and willfully muffle themselves as they sat piously in the pews. When we were getting beaten in our classrooms, they closed their doors so they wouldn’t have to listen to the screaming and yelling or the sound of encyclopedias being slammed down onto hands or yardsticks broken over heads.

    Many years later my mother would apologize to me. “I knew something was wrong, I just had no idea. None of you kids talked much but you talked none at all.” Ma was raised Southern Baptist so she had no context. I suppose the old man could have known but he was on the road all the time. My sisters and brothers… were just happy it wasn’t happening to them.

  7. Tony W says:

    @Pinky:

    Sadly, no, it hasn’t. Active Catholics have known about certain priests for years, and they’ve tried to call attention to it

    You forgot the most important part – “then they just remain Catholics, cuz ‘what are you gonna do?'”. People in my own family talk about ‘those priests’ as if they are not the priests she associates with every day. It can’t be our dear Father Schmidt though, right? He’s such a nice man!

    When people choose daily to continue to associate themselves with a vile institution like Catholicism (or most flavors of Christianity), they become colored by its evil. Indoctrinating kids to believe in vicious fairy tales like this is abusive, because as we learned from the Duggars, they begin to accept that whatever abuse they receive as a result of the suppressed sexuality is deserved because it’s “god’s” will. BS

  8. Tony W says:

    @Pinky:

    The ongoing scandal is one of homosexual pedophilia (and ephebophilia, if you want to be technical) and fellow homosexuals covering it up.

    – oh, and really? You’re still dragging up this long-ago-disproven tripe?

    Look, I know you’re scared – but don’t project so much!

  9. DrDaveT says:

    How is deliberately abetting and covering up a series of felonies only a misdemeanor?

  10. Pinky says:

    @Tony W: Scared of what? Talk about long-ago-disproven tripe. I’m not secretly worried I’m gay. I’m someone who has seen a lot of stuff over the years, apparently more than you have if you’re unaware that what I said is true.

    ETA – The more I think about your comment, the more obnoxious it seems. It’s as if you think you can bully people off their point with an “I know you are but what am I”. It’s lazy, and it was a stupid comment.

  11. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:
    Are you saying that Pope Benedict is homosexual?
    Are you also trying to say that priests did not sexually abuse young women or have affairs with adult men? You are definitely wrong on the latter two. I have no idea about the first, but he did have fabulous shoes.

  12. Pinky says:

    @Grewgills: Benedict did more to expose and fix the scandal than anyone. I don’t know if he’s gay or not. He could be gay. I could be gay. I’m not, but I could be. I’m not bringing up any of this because of an anti-gay bias, just a bias toward facts. And I’m not saying that everyone who covered these scandals up is gay, or that there was no adult-adult gay activity. I’m saying that the problem was largely bimodal, and the activity with younger males was predatory and involved more people.

    Does this make the Catholic Church evil? No. There have always been evil acts committed by Catholics. There’s also been holiness within the Catholic Church. The Church’s record on pedophilia is on par with that of most faiths, and with public and non-religious private schools – which is nothing to brag about, of course. The Church has never claimed to be immune from evil actions by its members, only immune from teaching error. The Church traces itself back to Peter, who was a jerk and denied Jesus. Nothing about the actions of Catholics makes me doubt the truth of the Catholic faith. I could not be a member of a club that wouldn’t admit rotten people.