Priest sought sex in schoolboys’ toilet
Back in 2013, Minnesota Catholic priest Curtis Wehmeyer, above, was jailed for five years for criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography.
But his sentence was not the end to the sorry saga. In a dramatic new turn last Friday, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis was hit with criminal charges related to Wehmeyer’s conduct.
Charging documents allege that archdiocese officials knew Wehmeyer used a boys’ toilet 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.
Prosecutors also accused church leaders of mishandling repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against the priest and failing to follow through on pledges to protect children and root out paedophile clergymen.
The six criminal charges filed on Friday – misdemeanors with a maximum fine of $3,000 each – accuse the archdiocese of failing to protect children.
Ramsey County prosecutor, John J 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 charges stem from accusations by three male victims who say that from 2008 to 2010, when they were under age, 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.
Choi said on Friday:
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.
The 44-page criminal complaint states that concerns about Wehmeyer date back to the 1990s, when he was in seminary.
Supervisors suggested that his past sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse made him a poor candidate for the priesthood and fellow clergy members and parishioners voiced repeated concerns about Wehmeyer after his ordination in 2001.
But the archdiocese allowed him 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 archdiocese placed Wehmeyer in a monitoring programme for priests facing complaints of abuse or other problems, but prosecutors said in court documents that the supervision and follow-through was, according to Choi:
Lax or nonexistent. The archdiocese’s failures have caused great suffering by the victims and their family and betrayed our entire community.
An auxiliary bishop for the diocese, Andrew Cozzens, said in a statement on Friday:
We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse.
He added that the archdiocese would continue to cooperate with prosecutors.
We all share the same goal: to provide safe environments for all children in our churches and in our communities.
Criminal prosecution of an entire Catholic archdiocese is rare, but not entirely unprecedented, in American courts.
An Ohio judge in 2003 convicted the Archdiocese of Cincinnati of failing to report sexually abusive priests in the 1970s and 1980s. The judge fined the archdiocese $10,000, the maximum allowed, after the archbishop entered a no-contest plea.
But the Minnesota allegations are especially serious because the sexual abuse is said to have occurred relatively recently, long after sexual misconduct by priests had been widely reported and after Catholic institutions implemented programs aimed at preventing further abuse.
Hat tip: Mark Palmer