ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO/AP) — Ramsey County authorities will not be charging the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its handling of the case of a priest who was later convicted of sexually abusing two children.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said they do not have sufficient evidence to file charges, based off new information.
Choi made clear Wednesday at a press conference that they would only be discussing the case of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer and how and when it came to their attention.
A police timeline shows that a church official followed the law by reporting the abuse within 24 hours. Still, Choi criticized the Archdiocese.
“Although today there’s no criminal liability for the specific facts presented here, I continue to be troubled by some of the church’s reporting practices that manifest and some of the other cases that are currently under investigation and in this case as well,” he said.
The Wehmeyer case is among several that have come to light in recent months that have raised questions about the archdiocese’s handling of problem priests over the years. Choi said in more recent cases, there’s been more cooperation from the Archdiocese regarding police investigation.
However, St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said there certainly could be more.
State law requires members of the archdiocese to report allegations of sexual abuse against a minor immediately, which means as soon as possible but not longer than 24 hours after they were told. St. Paul Police investigated the timeline to report in this case relating to Father Wehmeyer, which occurred in May and June of 2012.
Wehmeyer, the former pastor of The Church of the Blessed Sacrament on St. Paul’s East Side, was charged in September 2012 and pleaded guilty that same year to criminal sexual conduct involving two brothers. Wehmeyer also pleaded guilty to having child pornography and is now serving a five-year prison sentence.
The charges said Wehmeyer molested one boy and exposed himself to the other in the summer of 2010. Wehmeyer was removed from his parish post in June 2012 after church authorities learned of the allegations.
But internal church documents show archdiocese leaders knew well before then that Wehmeyer had issues with sexual misconduct. In 2008, a church employee who was reviewing priest files warned church officials that Wehmeyer’s file contained documents noting he had a sexual addiction and had violated the archdiocese’s code of conduct several times. Among other things, Wehmeyer had solicited young men for sex in a bookstore and had cruised a park for anonymous sex.
But despite that, he was allowed to remain in ministry and was promoted to pastor in 2009.
In a Sept. 27, 2013, letter, Archbishop John Nienstedt said he didn’t suspect Wehmeyer was a risk to children when he named him pastor and it was clear in hindsight that Wehmeyer shouldn’t have been in active ministry. He apologized for not handling the matter more aggressively.
Attorney Jeff Anderson who represents Wehmeyer’s victims says Archdiocese officials should have been charged for covering up past allegations.
“It’s a very disturbing day,” he said.
Anderson lashed out against former Vicar General Kevin McDonough, who documents show told Wehmeyer he was about to be arrested. Wehmeyer then removed his trailer from the church property.
“There was an active obstruction of justice by Kevin McDonough and Archdiocese officials,” Anderson said.
Choi said no action would be taken against McDonough or other officials because their actions did not interfere with Wehmeyer’s prosecution.
There will also be no charges in another high profile case involving a local priest, Father John Shelley. A letter from the Washington County Attorney says none of the images on Shelley’s computer contained child pornography.
The Archdiocese released a statement saying it is gratified for the “clearing of the cases involving Wehmeyer and Shelley” and continue to cooperate with all investigations.
Through his attorney, Father Shelley said he is pleased with the decision and looks forward to a life free of unfair suspicion. McDonough could not be reached for comment.
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