“It will take a new leader to repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis” & related articles

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Criminal charges are latest indictment of Nienstedt’s stewardship. 

The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

June 8, 2015 — 6:05pm

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BRUCE BISPING • Star Tribune files The Cathedral of St. Paul serves the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which contains more than 200 parishes with about 825,000 Catholics.

Criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been a long time coming. Evidence of what Ramsey County Attorney John Choi called “institutional failure” to protect children from abusive priests has been accumulating for years.

Yet while not surprising, Choi’s announcement Friday that he has charged the archdiocese with six gross misdemeanor counts in connection with its oversight of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer is stunning for its courage. By asserting the bedrock principle of American justice that no one is above the law, Choi is proposing to hold one of St. Paul’s most powerful institutions to account.

Wehmeyer is now in prison after being convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing two boys whose mother worked with him at Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul. Choi’s related charges against the archdiocese spring from an investigation that took 20 months — a sign of painstaking prosecutorial diligence.

“This case is not about religion,” St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said Friday. “It’s about allegations of misconduct and crimes that were committed.”

That may be true in a legal sense. But intrinsically, the archdiocese is “about religion.”

That is what makes the crimes of which it is accused so repulsive, yet the prosecution of those crimes so risky. If, as accused, the archdiocese systemically looked the other way as Wehmeyer manipulated the faith of children and their families in order to prey upon them, it has betrayed the trust not only of the Roman Catholic faithful, but also the entire community. On the other hand, if the prosecutor overreaches, the damage he can inflict will be widely felt.

Choi’s accusations point to the entire archdiocese, not a few individuals. That sets this case apart from clergy abuse prosecutions elsewhere in the country. It’s in keeping with our view that systemic change is needed at the archdiocese, both to protect children from predatory priests and to restore the community’s trust in an institution that does so much good work in education, health care and caring for the poor.

That change must begin at the top. Archbishop John Nienstedt should go. The Star Tribune Editorial Board concluded 11 months ago that Nienstedt is too much associated with the mistakes of the past to credibly function as an agent of change. The fact that the Wehmeyer case, at the center of Choi’s charges, occurred on his watch is bound to further erode his capacity to engineer reform and rally support.

The charges Choi filed Friday were a legal and cultural bombshell in St. Paul. We hope their reverberations were felt as far away as Rome. Pope Francis is a leader who has displayed a keen sense of what reform requires. We hope he soon sees that new leadership is needed in Minneapolis and St. Paul to hasten the day when this archdiocese can again be “about religion” — and not an alleged criminal coverup — in the community’s eyes.

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Minneapolis Archdiocese Charged Over Handling of Sex Abuse Claims

NBC News

05 June 2015

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.

The Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minn. 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.

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Criminal charges against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Fox9.com

Posted: Jun 05, 2015 1:15 PM EST Updated: Jun 05, 2015 1:47 PM EST

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) – Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has filed criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis “to hold it criminally accountable for its failure to protect children.” The charges are connected to 3 separate victims of sexual abuse by former Catholic priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence for molesting two boys in his parish.

“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

The 6 gross misdemeanor charges list the archdiocese as a corporation, as Choi says there is insufficient evidence at this time to pursue criminal charges against individuals. Since the charges target the archdiocese as a whole, a conviction would result in a fine but no jail time.

‘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.

4 Responses to “It will take a new leader to repair Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    When I first heard about these charges I thought I had misunderstood, that the archdiocese had been sued, not charged.

    No. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is indeed facing criminal charges.

    I am 100 % in favour of charging those who break the law of the land. I can not, however, for the life of me, understand how an institution can be charged. I am still trying to wrap my head around this. I would much prefer to see charges laid against those individuals who obstructed justice, or endangered the welfare of a child or did or failed to do whatever in violation of the applicable criminal code.

  2. BC says:

    Hi Sylvia,
    The Diocese of Cincinati was also charged in 2003. See here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/21/us/archdiocese-of-cincinnati-fined-in-sex-abuse-scandal.html

  3. bc says:

    The main goals of criminal procedure are punishment/prevention, protection and education. I’m thinking that these charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are designed not for the collection of the fines per se but to educate the public about the self-regulating scams that are the Church’s so-called child protection programs and it’s misrepresentations regarding it’s concern for the safety of children.

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