Prosecutor says Church officials "turned blind eye" to problems with priest
In a rare move, criminal charges were filed Friday against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its handling of a priest who molested children.
Ramsey County prosecutors charged the archdiocese as a corporation with six misdemeanor counts alleging that it failed to protect children, the Associated Press reported. The charges carry potential penalties of several thousand dollars. No individual archdiocesan leaders are named in the criminal complaint, but a prosecutor said Church leaders "turned a blind eye" to problems with the priest.
According to AP:
The charges stem from the archdiocese’s handling of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who was eventually sent to prison for molesting two boys. Attorneys for several victims who sued the archdiocese have alleged that church officials waited too long between when they confronted Wehmeyer in 2012 and when they informed police, which they say gave Wehmeyer time to destroy evidence.
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.
Choi said Church officials have been “cooperative with all of our requests,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The newspaper also noted:
Civil cases have poured in since the 2013 Minnesota Child Victims Act opened a three-year window for filing lawsuits over decades-old child sex abuse claims. But criminal charges remain rare.
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said in a statement that the archdiocese "deeply regret[s] the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse.
"We will continue to cooperate with the Ramsey County Attorney’s office," Bishop Cozzens said. "We all share the same goal: To provide safe environments for all children in our churches and in our communities."
Judge Timothy J. O’Malley, who serves the archdiocese as its Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, said in a statement that the archdiocese has the "utmost respect" for Choi, his office, and the St. Paul Police Department, its investigators and Chief Tom Smith.
"We all share the goal of protecting children," said O’Malley, former Superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. "To that end, the Archdiocese will continue to work with the St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, as well as our private and public sector partners, to accomplish that goal. We share County Attorney Choi’s and Chief Smith’s commitment to prevent the kind of harm caused in the Wehmeyer case from ever happening again."
He added that because this is an ongoing investigation "and we do not want to interfere with it, we cannot make any other comments at this time."