Archdiocese says she knew abused boy’s visits with priest violated rules.
The mother of two boys sexually abused by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer contends that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is blaming her for not protecting her sons from the priest and has reneged on promises to help her family deal with the trauma.
“The burden this has placed on my family and the devastation … is insurmountable,” the mother said in an interview last week with the Star Tribune. “It really cut deep when they blamed it on me.”
Wehmeyer, the former pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul, is serving a five-year prison term for abusing two of her sons, and the family has sued the archdiocese for civil damages.
In a brief response filed Feb. 7, the archdiocese said that the mother was aware of the time one of her boys was spending with Wehmeyer.
“Plaintiff’s mother worked at Blessed Sacrament Parish in St. Paul during the period when plaintiff was abused by Curtis Wehmeyer,” the filing said. “She was aware of the time [he] spent with Mr. Wehmeyer, and she knew that such interaction was contrary to established Archdiocese policy.”
“That’s absurd,” she said.
Spokesman Jim Accurso said the court document referred to by the mother is an early filing, written before any legal fact-finding in the case.
The mother, whose name is being withheld from this story to protect the identities of her children, was a full-time employee at Blessed Sacrament when Wehmeyer abused her boys starting when they were 9 and 11 years old.
‘Bloodcurdling to me’
The mother said part of her job at Blessed Sacrament was to administer the parish’s Protection of Children and Youth Initiative, including doing background checks on volunteers. She said she allowed her boys to go camping with Wehmeyer and hang out with him because she hoped at least one of them would take an interest in becoming a priest.
Wehmeyer was “geeky” and didn’t have a lot of friends, she said, but she thought his interests in the outdoors and ownership of a dog would appeal to her sons.
The mother acknowledged that she received a phone call in 2009 from then-Vicar General Paul Sirba. He had learned that one of her boys had gone camping alone with Wehmeyer, and he told her to make sure another adult was present on any future trips.
But she said the gist of his message was that supervision was needed to protect priests from the appearance of scandal.
The family’s lawsuit cites a May 2011 memo by former vicar general Kevin McDonough recommending against disclosing 2004 and 2009 police reports describing Wehmeyer’s approaches to young men.
“It’s bloodcurdling to me they had the opportunity to stop this man dead in his tracks before he harmed any of my children,” the mother said.
‘Those visions come back’
The abuse of the boys came to light after they began to sexually abuse their younger siblings, she said. She has flashbacks of the younger siblings, each under the age of 6, pleading with her to take them on errands instead of leaving them behind with their older brothers.
“When I’m quiet … those visions come back,” she said.
One son remains under intense therapy at a treatment center in Utah after a period of sexual promiscuity, drugs and a spree of running away. The boy’s escape from a detention center in Lino Lakes, along with school truancy violations, created legal trouble that the family is still confronting, she said.
Failure in school, depression, guilt, anxiety and nightmares have plagued the other children, she said. She said the stress caused her to develop painful skin lesions that resulted in a lengthy hospital stay.
The mother said the archdiocese agreed early on to pay all of her family’s counseling and therapy costs. But lately the family has received delinquent pay notices from therapists and other providers, she said. One bill is for a 66-day stay at Harbor Shelter in Hastings for one of the boys who was abused.
Accurso said that, effective Monday, all therapy and counseling bills for the family had been paid. Any delinquencies were due to a temporary staffing change in the chancery office, he said.
He acknowledged that the archdiocese hasn’t paid the Harbor Shelter bill because temporary shelter wasn’t covered under the family’s agreement with the church. Accurso said the archdiocese is willing to discuss the Harbor Shelter bill with her attorneys.
In addition, the family has challenged a change in her work status. The mother said her work hours recently were capped at 12 per week, down from 36, after she was questioned by the new pastor as to how many hours she was capable of working. Accurso said her hours were changed because “she was only interested in working eight to 12’’ hours.
“She’s a great worker and if she calls tomorrow and asks for 36 [hours] she will get them,’’ Accurso said.
But the mother said therapy appointments and other obligations related to the crisis in her family is the only thing keeping her from working a full week. Her previous arrangement with the archdiocese was to get paid for 36 hours while taking as much time off as needed to handle the appointments.
“I’m so exasperated by how the church is treating our family,” the mother said.
St. Paul Police recently questioned the mother again about the timing of when she initially reported the sexual abuse to the archdiocese. Sarah Odegaard, her attorney, said Monday that recently obtained phone records show that the family made a phone call to the Rev. John Paul Erickson at 3:23 p.m. on June 17, 2012. The mother said her husband also was on the call and that it was not part of any confession. The priest, who is a mandated reporter of child abuse, told the couple he would have an archdiocesan attorney call the police, the mother said.
The timeline is important to Ramsey County’s consideration of possible criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to report the abuse to authorities within 24 hours. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said late last month that the church appeared to meet the deadline, but he since said he is reconsidering the case.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213