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Minnesota Archdiocese Charged in Sex Abuse Case

FILE - Archbishop John Nienstedt talks to reporters in St. Paul, Minn., after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it was the best way to get resources to tims of clergy sexual abuse.

Criminal charges have been filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota for failing to protect children from an abusive priest.

The charges cite “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct” by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer — who was sentenced to a five-year prison term for criminal conduct with a minor and possession of child pornography in February 2013 — and fault the archdiocese for “turning a blind eye.”

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told reporters Friday that responsibility for the abuse lay not only with Wehmeyer but also with the archdiocese for failing to act against the priest or protect his victims.

“Today we are alleging a disturbing institutional and systemic pattern of behavior committed by the highest levels of leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis over the course of decades,” Choi said.

No 'choice' for prosecutor

There have been allegations of sexual abuse against several priests in the archdiocese in recent years, and numerous civil suits have been filed against the archdiocese.

For those reasons, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) had scant praise for Choi.

“The cover-ups in the Twin Cities are so widely documented at this point, we believe John Choi had little choice but to pursue the church hierarchy. We’re glad he did.” Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP in St. Louis, said in a statement.

Wehmeyer was convicted of sexually molesting two boys and is also facing prosecution in Wisconsin for similar allegations.

Archbishop John Nienstedt issued a statement in March of this year when Wehmeyer was stripped of his priesthood: “I am deeply saddened and have been profoundly affected by the stories I continue to hear from victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse. My focus, and the focus of the archdiocese, is to do all we can to keep children safe while offering resources for help and healing.”

Making a point

Prosecutors brought six misdemeanor charges against the archdiocese, which could result in fines. No individual member of the archdiocese was named in the indictment. Choi said that the charges were important in holding the archdiocese accountable, even if the penalties seemed light.

"We believe this it the first time in more than a decade that a Catholic diocese has faced criminal charges," SNAP's Dorris said in her statement.

An archdiocese is a division of the Catholic Church that is under the governance of an archbishop. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is made up of 825,000 Catholics in a 12-county area.