Breaking in Minnesota

Updated 12:23 p.m. | Posted 12:10 p.m.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Friday the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being criminally charged for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” done to three victims of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer.

Former priest Curtis Wehmeyer Minnesota Department of Corrections
• Sept. 23, 2013: Archdiocese knew of priest’s sexual misbehavior, yet kept him in ministry

The charges place responsibility for the abuse of those children not just on Wehmeyer “but the archdiocese as well,” Choi told reporters as he announced the charges.

Choi said the charges qualify as gross misdemeanors, and could lead to fines against the archdiocese. The Ramsey County Attorney has also filed a civil petition against the archdiocese.

Church officials time and time again turned a blind eye in the name of protecting priests at the expense of protecting children, he added.

Choi said the investigation remains ongoing and “robust” and that new facts that support the allegations in the charges today have been uncovered.

“The facts we have gathered cannot be ignored, they cannot be dismissed, and are frankly appalling, especially when viewed in their entirety,” Choi said.

St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith asked anyone else with information about clergy misconduct to come forward as well.

“This case is not about religion. It’s about allegations of misconduct and crimes that were committed,” Smith said. “These types of allegations are always disturbing, especially when it involves people in positions of authority and trust.”

The charges mark a milestone in a 20 month investigation by St. Paul police and Ramsey County prosecutors of the handling of clergy sex abuse by officials archdiocese.

It began in October 2013 when St. Paul police opened an investigation of the handling of allegations of child sexual abuse Wehmeyer, who was arrested in 2012 and pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two sons of a parish employee and possessing child pornography. He was formally removed from the priesthood in March 2015 and is serving a five-year prison sentence.

The police review of the case was prompted by an MPR News report that showed several church officials did not immediately report the allegations to police.

Three months later, in January 2014, Choi held a news conference to announce that no charges would be filed against any church officials for their handling of the Wehmeyer case.

Within hours, MPR News obtained documents that provided further evidence of Archbishop John Nienstedt’s knowledge of the Wehmeyer allegations. Those documents led Choi and police to reopen the case.

Over the past year, the investigation expanded to include thousands of documents from lawsuits, news reports and other sources that detailed how church officials responded to allegations of clergy sex abuse.

Throughout that time, Choi has said little about the investigation and has faced criticism from victims and Ramsey County residents who said he wasn’t being aggressive enough in holding church officials accountable to the law.

This is a breaking news story. More reporting to come.