Minn. Supreme Court upholds priest's conviction in sexual misconduct case

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A priest convicted of criminal sexual conduct will not get a new trial, according to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling released Wednesday.

The state's high court says Rev. Christopher Wenthe, 49, formerly affiliated with Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul, violated the state's clergy sex statute when he had a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old female parishoner, the Pioneer Press reports.

The newspaper says the law makes it a felony for a priest to have sexual contact with anyone who is seeking or receiving spiritual advice or comfort in private.

Wenth admitted during his trial in Ramsey County District Court to having a relationship with the woman over 18 months. The victim testified that she confided in Wenthe about her struggles with an eating disorder and previous sexual abuse, but the priest maintained that sexual conduct did not occur while the woman was seeking spiritual aid.

In 2011, a jury found Wenthe guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced to a year in the Ramsey County workhouse and was released early for good behavior.

Last year, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned Wenthe's conviction, saying it was based on evidence entangle in matters of religion, which violates the First Amendment separating church and state. The case was sent back to district court, prompting the Ramsey County attorney to ask the state Supreme Court to rule.

The Star Tribune said the case will go back to the state appellate court for issues that weren't addressed when Wenthe was granted a new trial such as whether Wenthe knew he was breaking the law when he engaged in the relationship.

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