ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is publicly admitting wrongdoing in its handling of abuse allegations involving a former priest. The admission of wrongdoing is among 4 major developments announced at a Wednesday morning civil settlement hearing in Ramsey County District Court.
"We failed," Archbishop Hebda said. "We failed to give priority to the safety and well-being of the children he hurt over the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese. In particular, we failed to prevent Curtis Wehmeyer from sexually abusing children. Those children, their parents, their family, their parish and others were harmed. We are sorry. I am sorry."
As part of the settlement, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi agreed to drop 6 criminal child endangerment charges against the archdiocese. In Dec. 2015, Choi filed criminal charges against the archdiocese "to hold it criminally accountable for its failure to protect children." The church was accused of keeping Father Curtis Wehmeyer in the ministry despite knowledge of his sexual misconduct. In 2013, Wehmeyer was convicted on 20 felony charges for sexually abusing two minors in Minnesota. He was also charged in Chippewa County, Wisconsin with second-degree sexual assault. Wehmeyer was defrocked by Pope Francis in March 2015.
Choi said Wehmeyer's victims are satisfied with the admission and settlement.
“i recently had the opportunity to visit with a family that has been so wrongfully harmed,” Choi said. “And they wholeheartedly support these actions.”
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As part of the updated settlement, Archbishop Bernard Hebda will personally participate in restorative justice programs, in which victims can tell their stories. Another significant development announced Wednesday was the release of any victims' prior confidentiality agreements, within 30 days, allowing them to go public with their experiences.
The amended settlement agreement also adds Patty Wetterling to the church’s ministerial review board, which investigates abuse claims.
“I understand the vital importance of the work of the ministerial review board in keeping our communities as safe as possible,” Wetterling said in a statement. “I hope my experience will add value to the board and I pledge to take my responsibilities seriously.”
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Statement from former Archbishop John Nienstedt
"Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community. In particular, I am sorry for the way the Archdiocese, under my leadership, addressed the allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer. As the Archbishop, I should have asked more questions, I should have demanded more answers, and I should have insisted those within the Archdiocesan administration at the time share more information with each other. I am sorry. I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of the Archdiocese, its leaders, and all those hurt by those who have lead.
"Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received claims regarding alleged misbehavior involving me. The claims did not involve anything criminal or with minors. The allegations involved events alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago, before I began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"Upon my direction, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis conducted an internal investigation involving those allegations made against me. The allegations were and still are absolutely and entirely false. Nonetheless, at the time I ordered an independent, thorough investigation with an outside firm unaffiliated with the Archdiocese.
"I ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese investigates all allegations of clergy misconduct. It would have been unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I knew them to be false. Since I would have instructed the Archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I ordered the Archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me.
To this day, I have not seen a final report as to the investigation.
"However, I want to be clear and reiterate the public responses that I have made since the investigation began. I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life. I have never solicited sex, improperly touched anyone and have not used my authority to cover up, or even try to cover up, any allegation of sexual abuse.
"Quite frankly, I am relieved by the release of the information today. I believe that the allegations have been made as a personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with Catholic Church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same sex marriage. Such personal attacks were first made when I defended the Church’s opposition to admitting openly homosexual men to the priesthood. These attacks grew even more vicious when I began to speak out against so-called same sex marriage. I publicly supported the proposed marriage amendment in Minnesota, which would have restricted marriage to one man and one woman. Each time I have spoken out I have received hundreds of threatening, insulting, and sometimes frightening letters, emails, and phone calls, some anonymous
"I also believe that the accusers are bringing false allegations forward in retribution for difficult decisions I have made as their superior. I am governed by privacy and employment laws, which limit what I can say. However, I can say that the allegations were made several years after the alleged conduct was supposed to have occurred.
"I didn’t come forward about the allegations because they are simply not true, and I didn’t want to speak poorly about the men making the allegations. The priests are known to me, and to each other. It is a matter of public record that they do not agree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, and I have consistently taken a stand with the Church on those issues.
"It’s also difficult to defend myself because the allegations are of the “he said, he said” nature. It is my word against the accusers and, as much as they seem to want to discredit me, I don’t want to harm them. I am relieved, however, that the public now knows the extent of the allegations and can hear my response. I pray that by knowing the allegations against me, Catholics in the Archdiocese can continue to move toward healing."