20-Month Investigation Leads to Criminal Charges Against Archdiocese
Charges have been filed against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which is accused of failing to protect children, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Friday.
Choi said the charges are in relation to three victims of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer.
Six charges have been filed, all of which are gross misdemeanors. They include three counts of Contributing to Need for Protection or Services and three counts of Contributing to Status as Juvenile Petty Offender or Delinquency.
Because the charges are against a corporation rather than individuals, Choi said no one is looking at jail time; if convicted, the archdiocese faces up to $3,000 in fines on each charge.
Choi said the charges are part of a 20-month-long investigation involving more than 50 witnesses and 170,000 pages of documents.
“This case isn’t about religion,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said. “It’s about allegations of misconduct and crimes committed.”
Wehmeyer is serving a five-year prison term for sexually abusing boys and possessing child pornography. He served as pastor at the Parish of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on St. Paul’s east side.
St. Paul police were alerted about Wehmeyer on June 21, 2012, after the mother of a 14-year-old boy said her son told her Wehmeyer had sexually abused him. In an interview with staff members of the Midwest Children’s Resource Center, the victim said the abuse happened in the summer of 2010. He said Wehmeyer gave him beer and marijuana and showed him pornographic videos and images on a laptop in the camper trailer that was parked on parish grounds.
The victim said Wehmeyer touched his genitals and exposed his own penis. The boy’s older brother was also present during some of these visits, according to the criminal complaint. It was later revealed that the brother was abused as well during a camping trip in the summer of 2010.
Wehmeyer pleaded guilty in 2012 to criminal sexual conduct involving the two brothers. He also pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography that was found on his laptop.
A third victim came forward to St. Paul police in July 2013 and reported that Wehmeyer had also sexually assaulted him in the camping trailer in the summer of 2008 and again on a camping trip in 2009. The victim said Wehmeyer gave him beer, liquor and marijuana on the camping trip. He said he took 6-8 shots of liquor and awakened to find Wehmeyer’s hands in his pants.
Wehmeyer was charged with second-degree sexual assaulton Nov. 10, 2014, in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, in connection to that third incident.
Accusations Against the Archdiocese
The criminal complaint details many incidents where archdiocese leaders were alerted about Wehmeyer’s behavior. One incident was when Wehmeyer received a citation for loitering at Crosby Park in St. Paul in January 2004. The police report indicates that the parking lot is a location where men frequently seek anonymous sexual encounters with other men.
Records show that then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough and Archbishop Harry Flynn were aware of the citation.
In May 2004, Wehmeyer also approached two younger men at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Roseville and inquired about sex, according to the criminal complaint. The complaint says Wehmeyer told one of the men that he was a priest but was at the bookstore “incognito.”
A concerned parishioner learned about the bookstore incident and contacted McDonough to report it and express concerns that Wehmeyer was involved with the youth groups at St. Joseph’s.
McDonough told the parishioner that he considered Wehmeyer’s actions to be mere “thrill seeking, playing with fire, and a bit of a misunderstanding,” according to the criminal complaint.
Wehmeyer was then sent to Saint Luke Institute, a treatment center for clergy with sexual and psychological disorders. Based on the assessment, St. Luke’s formally diagnosed Wehmeyer with a sexual disorder, an adjustment disorder, occupational problem and alcohol abuse by history. The report also said Wehmeyer “tends to overvalue his own needs and appears at risk for underappreciating the impact that his actions have upon others.”
St. Luke’s recommended individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, spiritual direction, a pastoral mentor, a pastoral support group and diocesan accountability.
The criminal complaint says Wehmeyer never underwent another assessment at St. Luke’s nor completed inpatient residential treatment. After the evaluation, the complaint says McDonough told Bishop Lee Piche that there was no reason to be concerned with Wehmeyer.
The concerned parishioner again wrote a letter to McDonough and expressed concern that restrictions were not placed on Wehmeyer’s ministry and that he was allowed to chaperone a youth trip to Valleyfair. The parishioner said he “felt he will one day read a police log about Wehmeyer,” according to the complaint.
McDonough responded to the letter and said neither group therapy nor group work was recommended by St. Luke’s – which was directly contrary to St. Luke’s recommendations.
In September 2009, a Fillmore County Sheriff’s Deputy was called about a drunken man at a gas station in Spring Valley, Minnesota, asking teenagers where they lived, where they went to school and if they wanted to party with him, according to the criminal complaint. The deputy made contact with Wehmeyer, who was arrested on fourth-degree DWI. He pleaded guilty in October 2009.
In a deposition in April 2014, Archbishop John Nienstedt said he knew about the DWI but was never told that Wehmeyer was trying to pick up teenagers.
Tim O’Malley, director of the Office of Ministerial Standards with the archdiocese, spoke during a news conference Friday in response to the charges.
“We respect both the criminal and civil law processes here in Minnesota,” O’Malley said. “We all share the goal of protecting children. To that end, the archdiocese will continue to fully cooperate with the county attorney’s office and the St. Paul Police Department.”
It’s clear the wounds left behind by the Curtis Wehmeyer case haven’t yet started to heal.
Those who attended the parish of the Blessed Sacrament in the days leading up to Wehmeyer’s 2012 arrest told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he always seemed stressed.
Others who identify as survivors of priest sex abuse are celebrating these criminal charges filed against the archdiocese.
“It’s a tragedy but it’s not an accident,” said Frank Meuers.
For 50 years, Meuers kept his story hidden and only recently started speaking out against the archdiocese.
“I would like to see these guys actually come to a court and answer for what they have done,” he said.
Although the archdiocese case could go to trial, Meuers wants to see individuals in the church charged and tried for any part they may have played.
“They should own up to it and they should do whatever steps they need to make sure things like that doesn’t happen again,” said a parishioner at Wehmeyer’s former church, adding the Church of the Blessed Sacrament has always kept an open-door policy and offered guidance for anyone who’d like to talk.