Twin Cities arch­dio­cese in­dicted

Pros­e­cu­tors say St. Paul and Min­neapo­lis Catholic of­fi­cials ig­nored warn­ings of priest’s sex­ual abuse.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Tina Susman tina.susman@la­times.com Twit­ter: @tina­sus­man

NEW YORK — Of­fi­cials in the Arch­dio­cese of St. Paul and Min­neapo­lis ig­nored or shrugged off warn­ings of im­proper be­hav­ior in­volv­ing a parish priest now jailed for child sex­ual abuse, pros­e­cu­tors said Fri­day, as they charged the arch­dio­cese with six counts of fail­ing to pro­tect mi­nors.

The charges, gross mis­de­meanors, are against the arch­dio­cese as a cor­po­ra­tion, not against in­di­vid­u­als, but the crim­i­nal com­plaint cited high-rank­ing clergy, in­clud­ing Arch­bishop John Clay­ton Nien­st­edt and Aux­il­iary Bishop Rev. Lee An­thony Piche, as be­ing among those who were al­legedly told of con­cerns about the be­hav­ior of the for­mer priest, Curtis Wehmeyer.

“Fa­ther Curt Wehmeyer has many skele­tons in his closet,” Piche told one per­son who con­sulted him in 2010 af­ter hav­ing seen Wehmeyer in bed with a teenage boy dur­ing a camp­ing trip, the com­plaint al­leged.

In 2009, a year af­ter Nien­st­edt was el­e­vated to arch­bishop, the com­plaint said he ig­nored warn­ings about Wehmeyer and pro­moted him to over­see the merger of two parishes.

It also said Nien­st­edt’s pre­de­ces­sor, the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn, had been warned that Wehmeyer had a his­tory of al­co­hol abuse and so­lic­it­ing sex from young men, and that for­mer Vicar Gen­eral Kevin McDonough, who was re­spon­si­ble for co­or­di­nat­ing the re­sponse to sex­ual abuse claims, re­peat­edly in­sisted the priest was not a dan­ger to chil­dren.

“What the facts are and what the law al­lows and what jus­tice re­quires is that we file crim­i­nal charges against the Arch­dio­cese of St. Paul and Min­neapo­lis for its role in fail­ing to pro­tect chil­dren and con­tribut­ing to the un­speak­able harm that was done to three young sex­ual abuse vic­tims of Curtis Wehmeyer,” Ram­sey County Atty. John J. Choi said at a news con­fer­ence. “It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for the harm caused, but it is the arch­dio­cese as well.”

In a state­ment, Judge Tim O’Mal­ley, direc­tor of Min­is­te­rial Stan­dards and Safe En­vi­ron­ment at the arch­dio­cese, said in part, “We all share the goal of pro­tect­ing chil­dren.” O’Mal­ley said the arch­dio­cese would work with po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors “as well as our pri­vate and public sec­tor part­ners, to ac­com­plish that goal. We share County At­tor­ney Choi’s and Chief Smith’s com­mit­ment to pre­vent the kind of harm caused in the Wehmeyer case from ever hap­pen­ing again.”

A sep­a­rate com­ment from Aux­il­iary Bishop An­drew Cozzens said in part, “We deeply re­gret the abuse that was suf­fered by the vic­tims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. We will con­tinue to co­op­er­ate with the Ram­sey County At­tor­ney’s of­fice. We all share the same goal: To pro­vide safe en­vi­ron­ments for all chil­dren in our churches and in our com­mu­ni­ties.”

The arch­dio­cese, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, min­is­ters to 825,000 Ro­man Catholics.

Wehmeyer is serv­ing a five-year sen­tence in Min­nesota af­ter plead­ing guilty in Novem­ber 2012 to three felony counts of sex­ual con­duct with two mi­nors and 17 felony counts of pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy. He also faces charges in Wis­con­sin in con­nec­tion with a third mi­nor. Those charges were filed last Novem­ber.

Choi said more than 50 wit­nesses, in­clud­ing clergy and lay peo­ple, pro­vided in­for­ma­tion that led to the charges against the arch­dio­cese. They in­cluded par­ents of the vic­tims, who first went to po­lice in June 2012 af­ter hear­ing of the abuse from their sons. The abuse was al­leged to have oc­curred dur­ing camp­ing trips in 2010 and 2011, when the boys said Wehmeyer plied them with booze, mar­i­juana and pornog­ra­phy and then mo­lested them.

Two of the vic­tims were broth­ers. One of them, known as Vic­tim 2, re­ported that Wehmeyer would get into bed with him when they slept in a camp­ing trailer. “Vic­tim 2 stated that he would put up a bar­ri­cade of pil­lows and blan­kets to try to sep­a­rate him­self from Wehmeyer while they slept but, when he would awaken, would find the bar­ri­cade re­moved and Wehmeyer’s hands touch­ing his pri­vate parts,” ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint.

Each of the six counts against the arch­dio­cese car­ries a pos­si­ble one-year sen­tence and a fine of $3,000, but pros­e­cu­tors said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that be­gan about 20 months ago re­mained open.

“We will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions,” said St. Paul po­lice Chief Tom Smith.

“We need the public’s help,” Smith said, urg­ing vic­tims and wit­nesses to come for­ward if they had in­for­ma­tion. “The more peo­ple the bet­ter.”

The charges against the arch­dio­cese come just a few weeks af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of Kansas City Bishop Robert W. Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop to be con­victed for his role in the church’s sex abuse scan­dals. Finn was found guilty in Septem­ber 2012 of fail­ing to re­port sex­ual abuse by one of his priests, Fa­ther Shawn Rati­gan. Rati­gan is serv­ing a 50-year pri­son term.

A 2002 in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Dal­las Morn­ing News iden­ti­fied 109 bish­ops ac­cused of en­abling sex­ual abuse within the U.S. church. Ac­cord­ing to 2010 data com­piled by Bish­opAc­count­abil­ity.org, a site that has tracked the abuse scan­dal, 45 of those bish­ops had re­tired, 15 were pro­moted, 12 re­signed and three died in of­fice. One bishop’s role as ad­min­is­tra­tor ended and a new bishop took over.

Wehmeyer was or­dained in 2001. Three years later, he re­ceived a ci­ta­tion for loi­ter­ing in a St. Paul park, in an area known as a spot for men to pick up other men for sex, ac­cord­ing to the crim­i­nal com­plaint.

In 2005, de­spite hear­ing re­peated com­plaints about Wehmeyer re­lated to sus­pi­cions that he was drawn to boys and men, the com­plaint said McDonough as­sured Flynn, then the arch­bishop, that Wehmeyer “would con­sti­tute ab­so­lutely no dan­ger to any­one in the min­is­te­rial set­ting.”

Even af­ter a sher­iff ’s deputy spot­ted Wehmeyer four times in two days hang­ing around park ar­eas known as pickup spots for men, and alerted McDonough, the com­plaint said McDonough de­nied there was a prob­lem. In­stead, he said he be­lieved Wehmeyer sim­ply en­joyed the “thrill” of be­ing in the en­vi­ron­ment, and he told Flynn the priest was just “play­ing on the edge” and not do­ing any­thing immoral or il­le­gal, the com­plaint said.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, Wehmeyer him­self was sur­prised when he was pro­moted in 2009. In a phone call with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in March 2015 from the pri­son where he is serv­ing his time, Wehmeyer said that he asked Nien­st­edt at the time of his pro­mo­tion, “Are you aware of my past? Are you aware of my record?”

He said the arch­bishop replied, “I don’t have to look into that stuff,” the com­plaint said.

Jen­nifer Si­mon­son Min­nesota Public Ra­dio

RAM­SAY COUNTY Atty. John J. Choi, with St. Paul Po­lice Chief Tom Smith, an­nounces crim­i­nal charges against the Arch­dio­cese of St. Paul and Min­neapo­lis re­lated to the case of for­mer priest Curtis Wehmeyer.

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