ST. PAUL, Minn. — Criminal charges were filed Friday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its handling of a priest who molested children, with a prosecutor saying church leaders “turned a blind eye” to problems with the priest.
Ramsey County prosecutors charged the archdiocese as a corporation with six gross misdemeanor counts alleging that it failed to protect children. No individual church leaders were charged.
The charges stem from the archdiocese’s handling of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul who was eventually sent to prison for molesting two boys. Prosecutors say church leaders failed to respond to “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct” by Wehmeyer from the time he entered seminary until he was removed from the priesthood in 2015.
“It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said. He said the archdiocese “time and time again turned a blind eye” to what was going on with Wehmeyer.
Jim Mone / AP file
Wehmeyer, a former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, later pleaded guilty to molesting two boys and was sentenced to five years in prison.
“It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Friday. He said the archdiocese “time and time again turned a blind eye” to what was going on with Wehmeyer.
The six counts are all misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of a few thousand dollars. Choi said though penalties may seem light, the charges are important in holding the archdiocese accountable.
Asked whether individuals might be charged, Choi said only that the county’s investigation continues.
“We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse,” Tom Halden, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, said in a statement.
Halden said the archdiocese is cooperating 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 statement said.
Criminal charges against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Posted: Jun 05, 2015 1:15 PM EST Updated: Jun 05, 2015 1:47 PM EST
“It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well,” Choi said at a Friday news conference.
In 2013, Wehmeyer was convicted on 20 felony charges for sexually abusing two minors. He’s also charged in Chippewa County, Wisconsin with second-degree sexual assault. Father Wehmeyer was defrocked by Pope Francis just this past March.
No individuals charged
‘Facts were ignored’
The charges allege church ignored warnings about Father Wehmeyer being a sexual predator, including his bunking with a child on camping trip to Big Sandy Lake in Aitkin County.
“Facts were ignored, minimized, not shared with other individuals who needed to know,” Choi said.
Investigation not finished
The investigation is ongoing and St. Paul police and the Ramsey County attorney’s office are renewing their requests for anyone with information to come forward. Statements from more than 50 witnesses and the review of more than 170,000 pages of documents over the past 20 months led to the charges announced Friday.
“This case isn’t about religion,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said. “It’s about allegations of misconduct and crimes committed.”
Choi said the archdiocese has been “generally cooperative,” but that they were “falsely led to believe” that an effective program to monitor priests had been implemented.