Criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were dropped on July 20, after the archdiocese admitted that it failed to protect children who were sexually abused by a former priest. As part of the settlement, internal documents were unsealed, including a memo from an archdiocesan official that accuses the pope’s former ambassador to the United States of trying to squash an investigation into the alleged sexual improprieties of a former archbishop.
“Today I, as the leader of this archdiocese, stand before you to say we have failed, in what we have done and what we have failed to do,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said at a news conference following a court hearing.
He also apologized on behalf of the archdiocese.
“Those children, their parents, their family, their parish and others were harmed. We are sorry. I am sorry," he said.
Prosecutors had been pushing the church to admit wrongdoing in how it handled complaints against former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. And with that admission, the case was closed.
“Today, the archdiocese has publicly admitted that it contributed to children being sexually abused by putting the interests of the institution and its former priest above its duty to protect children,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement.
Wehmeyer was sentenced to prison in 2013 for sexually assaulting three people, two in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin, and for possession of child pornography. The archdiocese kept information about Wehmeyer’s behavior secret for several years.
According to reports, one of the documents unsealed Wednesday was a 2014 memoto Auxiliary BishopLeePiché from the Rev. Dan Griffin, a lawyer who was serving as the archdiocese’s liaison with the law firm investigating Archbishop John Nienstedt.
Archbishop Nienstedt, according to the memo, had been accused of carrying on a “social relationship” with Wehmeyer, “which may have affected his judgment.” Investigators retained by the archdiocese were asked to look into that charge, as well as other accusations that Archbishop Nienstedt was engaged in inappropriate sexual relationships with seminarians, priests and a member of the pope’s Swiss Guard.
According to the memo, a meeting was convened in Washington, D.C., attended by Father Griffin, Bishop Piché, Bishop Andrew Cozzens and Archbishop Carlo Viganò, the papal nuncio to the United States. The memo reports that following the meeting Archbishop Viganò told the archdiocese not to continue the investigation. Archbishop Nienstedt flew to Washington as well and had a conversation with Archbishop Viganò after the nuncio met with the two auxiliary bishops, the memo reads.
After Bishops Piché and Cozzens wrote a letter to Archbishop Viganò expressing their opposition to his request, Archbishop Viganò told the bishops to destroy their letter, the memo says.
Father Griffin wrote that destroying the letter would be “a crime under federal law and state law.” He added that he found it “most distressing” that the request came from “a papal representative to the United States.”
“What has unfolded in the face of compelling evidence amounts to a good old fashioned coverup to preserve power and avoid scandal and accountability,” Father Griffin continued. “As a result, the archdiocese and the wider church is now facing a much more significant scandal.”
In the memo, Father Griffin praised the lawyers investigating the claims against Archbishop Nienstedt for their discoveries, especially remarkable while working within what he called “the secretive culture of the church which is replete with fear of reprisals.”
Archbishop Nienstedt resigned last June, 10 days after criminal charges were brought against the archdiocese. Archbishop Viganò retired earlier this year. A civil case against the archdiocese’s handling of the Wehmeyer case was settled in December, and Wednesday’s announcement adds to the terms of that settlement.
According to the county attorney’s office, the record of the civil case has been altered to reflect the archdiocese’s admission of guilt. “The Archdiocese failed to keep the safety and wellbeing of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese,” the record now says.
In addition to admitting its negligence, the archdiocese agreed to a handful of additional steps mandated by civil authorities to protect children.
Church authorities will be subject to civil oversight until 2020, and the archdiocese agreed to place a civilly appointed member on its ministerial review board. Patty Wetterling, a former chairwoman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, will serve in that role.
In addition, the archdiocese will provide counseling for victims and their families, and Archbishop Hebda will participate in at least “three restorative justice sessions” organized by the prosecutor’s office.
“As this case comes to a close, it is important to recognize that it was the people of the archdiocese—the laity and clerics—who made our legal action possible by coming forward and telling the truth,” Choi said.
But David Clohessy, head of the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a statement Wednesday that he was “disappointed” in Choi’s decision not to bring charges against individual church officials.
“Wrongdoing is deterred when wrongdoers are punished,” Clohessy said. “But not one Twin Cities Catholic official is being punished—in the courts or in the church—for repeatedly deceiving parishioners, moving predators, hiding evidence, stone-walling police or endangering kids.”
Choi maintains there was not enough evidence to bring charges against Archbishop John Nienstedt or other officials, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
A lawyer for the archdiocese said that the dismissal of all criminal charges is “unconditional.”
Michael O’Loughlinis the national correspondent for America. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.