Minnesota Archdiocese Busted For Protecting Kid-Diddling Priest
Here's a rare thing: The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is facing criminal charges for mishandling a priest who mishandled children. The prosecutor says church officials "turned a blind eye" to the priest's sexual abuse of two boys. The priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, is serving five years in prison; he also faces additional charges in Wisconsin. Friday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi filed six "gross misdemeanor" counts against the archdiocese as a corporation; no individuals have yet been charged.
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. The criminal complaint says many people -- including parishioners, fellow priests and parish staff -- reported issues with Wehmeyer, and many of those claims were discounted.
"It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well," Choi said. He said church leaders had the power to remove Wehmeyer from ministry, but "time and time again turned a blind eye in the name of protecting priests at the expense of protecting children."
Among other oopsies, the archdiocese didn't perform a mandatory criminal background check on Wehmeyer until eight years after his ordination. Church officials also overlooked reports that he was loitering in the boys' bathroom at a church, and that a priest reported Wehmeyer for taking two boys camping and being found in bed with one of them. In that 2010 case, Bishop Lee Piche "told authorities he couldn't remember the report from the priest." Memory problems seem to be a real problem in the archdiocese; Yr Wonkette reported last year that former St. Paul/Minneapolis Archbishop Robert Carlson testified in a separate case that he couldn't remember whether priests doing sex to kids was actually illegal.
Wehmeyer wasn't actually reported to authorities until 2012; Friday's criminal charges against the archdiocese are the "first time that a U.S. archdiocese has been criminally charged" for overlooking sex abuse by priests. The archdiocese promises that it really truly definitely will cooperate with authorities in the ongoing investigation:
"We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse,” Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said in a short statement Friday.
“We will continue to cooperate with the Ramsey County attorney’s office,” Cozzens said.
“We all share the same goal: to provide safe environments for all children in our churches and in our communities,” Cozzens said.
So far, no one on Fox News has come forward to suggest that the Archdiocese is just being persecuted because it's Christian, but it's early yet.
Also, let's take a moment to praise whistleblowers: the abuse by Wehmeyer, and the archdiocese's failure to do anything about it, was reported to police in 2012 by the archdiocese's own former canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, who exposed "a pattern of abuse, coverups and the movement of offenders to new church assignments." Even though the Catholic Church has repeatedly insisted all that abuse cover-up stuff happened a long time ago, it has taken care of the problem, and there's no need to ever speak of it again.
So now we should probably expect swift justice for the victims of sexual abuse in the Minnesota Archdiocese, right? Maybe not -- in January, the Archdiocese declared bankruptcy, because gosh darn it, paying civil damages to victims is expensive. Church officials may not be very good at stopping abuse, but they're awfully adept at avoiding paying for it, as we saw in Milwaukee a couple years back, when the Archbishop transferred over $50 million of the Archdiocese's assets into a fund for cemetery maintenance, which couldn't be seized because First Amendment.
Maybe when Pope Frank visits U.S. America in the fall, he can clear up a few things with these American Archbishops about how the whole Christianity thing is supposed to work. There's still a hell of a lot of house-cleaning he needs to catch up on.
[CBS News / Star Tribune]
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