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County prosecutor 'troubled' by archdiocese's handling of clergy abuse case

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Ramsey County Attorney John Choi
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi praised the archdiocese in 2012 for its handling of the Wehmeyer case.
Alex Kolyer for MPR/File 2012

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says he's looking into findings from a Monday MPR News investigation that shows Catholic Church leaders did not tell parishioners of the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer's sexual addiction and past misconduct. 

Police files also indicate that officials within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis did not immediately call authorities when sexual abuse allegations against Wehmeyer later surfaced.  

  "Nothing has been presented to our office in terms of reviewing any of the issues that were raised in the MPR report this morning," Choi said Monday, "but we will be in contact with the St. Paul Police Department to discuss this matter." 

  Choi would not specify which aspects of the report he found troubling, saying it would be an investigative issue for police to pursue.

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  Wehmeyer pleaded guilty last year to abusing two brothers from Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul, where he served as pastor. He's serving a five-year prison sentence in St. Cloud. 

  The police investigative file does not say who first contacted authorities when the allegations against Wehmeyer came to light. It says the mother of the victims told police that she talked to another priest in the archdiocese about the allegations first -- and that she and one of her children met with a church official before being interviewed by police. 

Curtis Carl Wehmeyer
Curtis Wehmeyer pleaded guilty last year to abusing two brothers from Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul, where he served as pastor. He's serving a five-year prison sentence in St. Cloud.
Minnesota Department of Corrections

  A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that its director of clergy services at the time, Deacon John Vomastek, reported the allegations to police but declined to say when. Vomastek himself is a former police officer.

  Last week, former top church official Rev. Kevin McDonough told MPR News that he had no regrets about his decision not to tell parishioners that Wehmeyer had a sex addiction and had been caught cruising. 

  "Nothing, nothing, nothing in this man's behavior known to us would have convinced any reasonable person that he was likely to harm kids," McDonough said.  

But late yesterday, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis released a statement saying, "In hindsight and in light of what we now know, we also recognize that our handling of past concerns could have been better addressed."  

The statement says the archdiocese convened a working group that has been meeting over the past year to review church policies on clergy sexual abuse and clergy misconduct.   

A spokesperson for the archdiocese declined an interview request to describe the effort.   

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group, is now calling for a grand jury investigation into the archdiocese's handling of clergy abuse cases.  

Bob Schwiderski, director of SNAP's Minnesota chapter, says he's concerned about whether the archdiocese delayed reporting allegations against Wehmeyer.   

"Have there been criminal laws that have been broken, with no consequences to the institution?" he asked. "That's enough. At the same time, it's time for more awareness of the need to protect children. And if the institutions need to be woken up, so be it."  

In the meantime, police have said they're investigating whether Wehmeyer has more victims.