ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has publicly admitted wrongdoing for the way it handled abuse allegations against a former priest.
At a press conference Wednesday, prosecutors said they’ll drop six criminal child endangerment charges that alleged the archdiocese turned a blind eye to repeated misconduct by Curtis Wehmeyer, who was convicted of molesting two boys in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin.
In June 2015, the Archdiocese was charged in both civil and criminal cases involving Father Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer was accused of molesting three young Minnesota boys, a charge he eventually plead guilty to.
The Archdiocese was charged for failing to protect children from the abusive priest.
The criminal complaint spelled out in detail what top officials, including then Archbishop John Nienstedt, former Vicar General Kevin Mcdonough and Bishop Lee Piche, knew about Wehmeyer’s predatory behavior and how they failed to act.
Nienstedt resigned days after the charges were filed.
The civil complaint was settled six-months ago.
On Wednesday, Ramsey County District Court and the Ramsey County District Attorney’s Office said they dropped the criminal charges against the Archdiocese, in part due to the public admission of guilt.
The admission is part of a beefed-up civil agreement announced in court Wednesday. As part of this agreement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda will also personally participate in restorative justice sessions — taking a more active role.
“Cooperation was the right avenue to achieve a just solution,” Hebda said in a press conference, adding that new structures are in place in the archdiocese to protect children in parishes and schools.
The terms of the new settlement also extend audits of the Archdiocese for an additional year, place national child advocate Patty Wetterling in a seat on the Ministerial Review Board, strengthen the role of the Director of Safe Environment and ensure continued counseling resources are available for the three victims and their family.
“Today, the Archdiocese has publicly admitted that it contributed to children being sexually abused by putting the interests of the institution and its former priest above its duty to protect children,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said. “Now that it has been made and we have secured additional legal safeguards to prevent such failures from ever happening again.”
Shortly after the archdiocese’s public admittance to wrongdoing, Choi held a press conference, calling the day a “solemn moment for our community.”
Choi also confirmed that the legal documents exchanged between the archdiocese and the attorney’s office will be released Wednesday afternoon.
“From the very beginning, it’s been our position for the archdiocese must to directly admit fault and wrongdoing in its role in failing to protect the victims of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer,” Choi said. “Without such an admission … there could never be true accountability. It wasn’t only Curtis Wehmeyer who harmed children, it was the archdiocese as well.”
The Archdiocese will have to report back to Ramsey County in another six months. The court date is set for December 20.
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