Supreme Court rejects appeal of MN priest's sexual assault conviction

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The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal from a Minnesota priest who was convicted of having sex with a female parishioner.

Without comment, the justices declined to take up the case of the Rev. Christopher Wenthe. He was appealing his 2011 conviction on third-degree criminal sexual misconduct for having sexual contact with the woman when she had sought spiritual counseling from him.

The conviction said Wenthe, who formerly served at 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 parishioner.

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.

Wenthe admitted during his trial in Ramsey County District Court to having a 15-month sexual relationship with the woman. But he maintained he wasn't providing the woman with spiritual aid during that time.

His attorneys acknowledged that the relationship was forbidden by the church – but they said it was legal.

Wenthe's case has been bandied about in the Minnesota court system for years: He was convicted in 2011, and the state Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court have each considered Wenthe's appeals twice.

The most recent ruling came in July from the Minnesota Supreme Court, which reinstated Wenthe's conviction after the Appeals Court had thrown it out. That's the decision Wenthe was appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wenthe had been sentenced to a year in the Ramsey County workhouse and was released early for good behavior.

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