State Supreme Court ruling due on priest sex law

Author:
Publish date:

The Minnesota Supreme Court is expected to soon rule on the constitutionality of a state law that makes it a felony for clergy to engage in sexual conduct with a parishioner who seeks spiritual advice or comfort.

The high court in June heard oral arguments in the case, which focuses on the conduct of the Rev. Christopher Wenthe, a St. Paul priest, who was convicted in 2011 of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, under the state's clergy sexual conduct statute.

Rulings typically come within four or five months, the Star Tribune notes.

Wenthe's lawyers had argued that the statute violates the Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The priest formerly at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church had acknowledged a relationship with a 21-year-old woman over 18 months, and admitted to sexual conduct, but he denied it happened while she was seeking spiritual aid. His lawyers acknowledged that the relationship was forbidden by the church – but they said it was legal.

Wenthe had been sentenced to a year in the Ramsey County workhouse and was released early for good behavior, but he appealed the conviction. In November 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the conviction. (Here's the appeals court's ruling.) At that point, Wenthe and the Ramsey County attorney’s office asked the Supreme Court to rule on it.

The case would help set a course for other cases, including that of a Maplewood priest who is under scrutiny for an alleged affair this year with a married parishioner, the Star Tribune reports. He has not been charged.

The ruling is expected as the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis grapples with a number of accusations that the church did not appropriately handle allegations of sexual misconduct by its clergy.

Next Up

Related

State Supreme Court rules that schools must report campaign spending

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Friday that school districts need to be more accountable in reporting campaign spending. The ruling stems from a 2010 complaint filed against the St. Louis County School District, which alleged district leaders and school board members violated state campaign laws by using public funds to promote the passage of a school building bond referendum -- and not reporting it to the state as campaign spending.

Diocese applauds Supreme Court's 'repressed memory' abuse case ruling

The Diocese of Winona said Thursday it is pleased that the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a lower court's rejection of a claim by a Savage man that he was abused by member of the clergy in the 1980s. James Keenan lawsuit's against the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona rested on his repressed memory claims of abuse by a priest who is now defrocked.