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Twin Cities archdiocese charged with failure to protect children in sex abuse case

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The Ramsey County Attorney has filed criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for failing to protect children from an abusive priest.

At a press conference on Friday, County Attorney John Choi announced the archdiocese is charged with six gross misdemeanors relating to its handling of the case of Curtis Wehmeyer.

"It was not only Curtis Wehmeyer who harmed children, but it was the Archdiocese as well," Choi said in a news release.

"The Archdiocese’s failures have caused great suffering by the victims and their family and betrayed our entire community - from the many courageous clergy and laypeople whose legitimate concerns about Wehmeyer’s behavior were ignored or minimized to those Catholics and non-Catholics alike who were falsely led to believe that the Archdiocese had effective measures in place to protect children," he added.

Archdiocese 'turned a blind eye'

Curtis Wehmeyer is currently in prison after being convicted of abusing children while he was pastor at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in St. Paul, and in March was permanently removed from the priesthood by Pope Francis.

He was sentenced to five years in Feb. 2013 for possession of child pornography and sexually abusing two brothers, then aged 12 and 14, on numerous occasions.

Choi referred to the archdiocese's program to monitor problem priests as "a sham" during the conference, with the Star Tribune reporting he cited an example where senior officials were told Wehmeyer had slept in a bed on a camping trip with one of his victims in 2010.

Choi said these reports were "ignored, minimized or not shared," according to the newspaper.

"Time and time again, they turned a blind eye," to what was happening, Choi said, according to KARE 11.

The Archdiocese responds

Later Friday officials with the archdiocese said they are committed to protecting children and will work with police and prosecutors in their ongoing investigation, according to The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Tim O'Malley, the archdiocese’s director of ministerial standards and safe environment, said "We all share the goal of protecting children," The Catholic Spirit reports.

Catholic News Agency quotes Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who is auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese:

“We deeply regret the abuse that was suffered by the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer and are grieved for all victims of sexual abuse. We all share the same goal: to provide safe environments for all children in our churches and in our communities."

Details of the charges

The six criminal charges filed against the Archdiocese include three separate counts of Contributing to the Need for Protection or Services and three more of Contributing to Status as a Juvenile Petty Offender or Delinquency.

A civil charge has also been filed, saying the Archdiocese contributed to the need for protection or services of children, with the charge "intended to seek legal remedies to prevent the Archdiocese from allowing this behavior to ever happen again."

The charges result from a 20-month long investigation between the attorney's office and St. Paul police, which saw 50 witnesses interviewed and more than 170,000 pages of documents obtained from various sources.

The station adds no charges have been levied against individual officials at this point, with insufficient evidence having been collected at this stage, but Choi said the investigation would continue.

The sex abuse scandal has rocked the Catholic archdiocese since it emerged in 2013, and has since prompted it to file for bankruptcy as it prepares to settle claims brought forward by victims.

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