A Catholic priest from California has been charged with having sexual contact in Minnesota with a woman for whom he was a "spiritual guide."
Jacob Bertrand, 33, has been charged in Dakota County with two counts of sexual conduct in the third degree for a member of the clergy, with the conduct taking place during a "religious advice meeting."
A criminal complaint alleges he met his victim when they were both studying spirituality in Rome in 2009, when he was a deacon at a Catholic Church. Later, while in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Bertrand and the victim engaged in sexual activity. You can read details from the charges below.
Why this is a crime
Under Minnesota law, it is a crime for a member of the clergy to engage in sexual activity with someone who comes to them for spiritual or religious advice.
This follows a ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court last year in the case of State v Wenthe, the Washington Post reports, and it stands even if the victim never stated they were seeking spiritual guidance before the sexual contact.
The law says it's a felony if the "actor is or purports to be a member of the clergy," the complainant is not married to the actor, and that sexual penetration occurred during the course of a meeting in which they sought religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private.
Contact in Minnesota, Wisconsin
According to the complaint filed against Bertrand:
After meeting in Rome in 2009, he agreed to be a spiritual guide for the victim – whose family home is in Mendota Heights – at her request, and they began meeting every week for "holy conversation."
During these conversations they began discussing their sexual pasts, and the victim gave Bertrand a copy of her journals in which she wrote that she hoped to find a husband while in Rome.
The complaint says Bertrand told her he was the person she was sent to Rome to meet, and he said that during his time in Rome "'the Lord had imprinted a vision in his mind of the victim naked and straddling him."
In June 2010, Bertrand was ordained as a priest in San Diego, during which time he and his victim had kissed on multiple occasions, and the next month he flew to Minnesota to spend some time at her family home.
It was in Minnesota and at a cabin in Wisconsin when more serious sexual contact was initiated, with penetration and oral sex involved.
After it happened, Bertrand told her they had "fulfilled the second holiest sacrifice next to Jesus and Mary on Calvary," and cautioned her not to talk about what happened as it was so "mystical" no one else would understand.
That summer he sent her a check for $1,000, saying God instructed him to do so, and during a phone call the next year he told her: "The devil tempts me to think that you will tell someone and ruin my ministry."
She reported the sexual contact to officials of the Catholic Church in 2012 and 2014, and later handed over to investigators a letter from Bertrand in which he apologized for "the many injustices and scandals to your faith caused by the fault that lies on me."
Police in Mendota Heights were contacted by the victim in April this year.
If convicted, Bertrand faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.