Clergy abuse: Papers spur new review of Wehmeyer case

Authorities receive more documents about archdiocese; attorney for abused boy sues.

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Ramsey County Attorney John Choi

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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The Ramsey County attorney’s office and St. Paul police began reviewing documents Thursday that indicate that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis failed to notify authorities of a child sex-abuse accusation against a St. Paul priest within 24 hours, as required by law.

The move comes a day after County Attorney John Choi announced he would not prosecute the archdiocese for its reporting of the abuse complaint against the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, now in prison for sexually abusing two boys.

Within hours of that announcement, however, authorities received an archdiocese document that appeared to indicate that the archdiocese waited more than two days to notify police. The document was made public by Minnesota Public Radio.

“We’ll be looking at the new information as to the impact it may have on the investigation,’’ said Dennis Gerhardstein, spokesman for the county attorney’s office. “We’re still in the early stages of discussion.’’

The county attorney’s office and the police will issue a joint statement on Friday, “to say we’re on the same page,’’ Gerhardstein said.

Meanwhile, attorneys for one of the boys sexually abused by Wehmeyer filed a lawsuit Thursday against the archdiocese, claiming the church obstructed justice, destroyed evidence and failed to report the abuse within 24 hours.

Archdiocese e-mails and documents show that church officials were aware of the abuse several days before reporting it to police, allowing the archdiocese to “cover up evidence,” interview the child witness and begin its own investigation before contacting law enforcement, said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson.

“This lawsuit is designed to do what [County Attorney] John Choi should have done,’’ Anderson said at a news conference.

The archdiocese repeated Thursday that it continues to support the county attorney’s findings. “We have continuously made ourselves available to law enforcement to address any outstanding questions … and we know, based on the body of facts of the case, that the findings announced yesterday by civil authorities are accurate.”

Why no search warrants?

The lawsuit represents a boy who, with his brother, was sexually molested by Wehmeyer in his trailer parked outside Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul. Wehmeyer is serving a five-year prison term.

Anderson questioned why police didn’t subpoena witnesses or get a search warrant for documents.

“You don’t rely on the suspect to turn over the evidence,’’ he said. “You seize it.’’

Police said they did not have sufficient evidence to do so.

Anderson said he met with Choi in September and provided him with detailed information about the documents that law enforcement should search for, and where they were stored in the chancery.

At the news conference, Anderson provided copies of e-mails between the archdiocese and the St. Paul police, as well as a decree signed by Archbishop John Nienstedt, saying he had received a complaint against Wehmeyer on June 18, 2012. The complaint, he wrote, indicated that Wehmeyer “had supplied alcohol and sexually explicit images to a minor, and fondled or attempted to fondle the minor’s genitals.’’

Anderson said the Nienstedt decree sheds light on the archdiocese’s priorities after the complaint. The archbishop appointed his vicar general, the Rev. Peter Laird, to conduct an investigation, but with stipulations: “Father Laird is to take care that such an investigation does nothing to harm Father Wehmeyer’s name or to violate his right to protect his privacy.’’

“What about protecting the kid?’’ asked Anderson. “What about the truth?’’

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