Archdiocese reaches 'landmark' settlement in Ramsey County priest abuse case

- The Ramsey County Attorney’s office and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Friday morning they’ve reached a settlement agreement after attorney John Choi filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese last summer for failing to protect children from a priest.

Choi called the settlement a "systemic change" and "cultural shift," which bars church leadership from concealing clergy abuse. 

READ MORE - Criminal charges against Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Choi filed criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in June "to hold it criminally accountable for its failure to protect children" which are connected to 3 separate victims of sexual abuse by former Catholic priest Curtis Wehmeyer, who is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence for molesting two boys in his parish in a camper parked outside the Church of the Blessed Sacrament.

The 24-page settlement says all future abuse allegations will go before a ministerial review board instead of one or two clergy members. The Ramsey County Attorney’s office will oversee the review board and other processes for the next 3 years.

In 2013, Wehmeyer was convicted on 20 felony charges for sexually abusing two minors. He's also charged in Chippewa County, Wisconsin with second-degree sexual assault. Father Wehmeyer was defrocked by Pope Francis last March.

“Today’s historic agreement increases oversight and transparency to systemically change how the Archdiocese protects children and responds to suspected incidents of child sexual abuse,” said Choi. “As a result, it is my expectation that the facts of this case will never be repeated and the protection of children will forever be of paramount importance within this Archdiocese.”

Key elements of the agreement

-2 independent audits will be completed in 2017 and 2018, with substantial involvement by the RCAO, to ensure compliance with the Agreement. (14.2)

-Judicial oversight to enforce compliance in the event there is a breach of this Agreement

-Clergy must report any arrest or citation that violates Archdiocese policies to the Director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment, who will determine whether the matter should be forwarded to the Archbishop, Ministerial Review Board, or both (5.14.c)

-When allegations of misconduct including child sex abuse arise in the future, they will now be addressed by the Ministerial Review Board, rather than allowing one or two clergy members to determine how to respond

-When the Archdiocese receives a report of child sex abuse and makes a mandated report to law enforcement, they won’t conduct their own internal investigation and won’t interfere with law enforcement’s investigation (6.4)

-When a cleric has been found not guilty of criminal conduct by civil authorities or has been investigated without prosecution, the Archdiocese will make an independent inquiry and evaluate the cleric’s fitness for ministry (7.2)

-Board of Directors will have oversight and knowledge of the Safe Environment Program to ensure accountability at the highest levels of the Archdiocese (2.1)

Archdiocese agrees to:

-Implement important “compliance standards” to outline a clear standard of response when suspected child sex abuse becomes known to individuals within the Archdiocese, including immediate reporting to law enforcement

-Notify local law enforcement of the location of any cleric with a substantiated claim or pending credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor (13.9)

-Confer with the RCAO to explore feasibility of implementing a fingerprinting policy as part of its background check process (5.15)

-Convene a Conference for Restorative Justice and Reconciliation to bring about further accountability and healing to victims and stakeholders (E)

-Establish an independent ombudsperson to assist victims and their families (13.8)

-Revamp its website to provide easy access to Safe Environment documents, including how to report abuse and the Archdiocese’s policies on Abuse (Section 8)

-Enhance its record keeping using electronic databases to monitor compliance with Safe Environment requirements and document requirements for clergy files (throughout document)

-Consider RCAO recommendations for appointments to the Ministerial Review Board (10.1)

-Provide access to outside legal counsel to the Director of Safe Environments and the Ministerial Review Board so they don’t have to rely solely on the legal counsel of the Archdiocese
 

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