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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Monday, June 20, 2011

Bishops should blast MN priest; SNAP says

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops should publicly denounce Fr. Wenthe for this callous, selfish move that threatens to leave innocent and vulnerable church-goers at risk of exploitation by shrewd and manipulative predators in the clergy.

Wenthe is doing what predators do: trying to exploit every possible legal maneuver and technicality to avoid responsibility for his sexual exploitation of a vulnerable parishioner. The real blame here lies with Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who is letting one of his priests try to overturn an important law that protects individuals from predators who abuse their positions of trust and authority.

Wenthe’s defense lawyer claims "Any minister who has sex with anybody may be in trouble under this statute." That is nonsense. Ministers can have sex with any consenting adult over whom they have no authority or power – anyone who isn’t a congregant.

The archbishop’s defense lawyer whines, "you're asking the jury to decide when a Catholic priest is actually counseling a follower." When will Catholic officials accept the fact secular laws that safeguard the vulnerable apply to them? When will they accept that religious belief, not criminal behavior, is protected in this country?

A highly educated, allegedly celibate man who holds the revered title Catholic priest cannot ever have truly consensual sex with a congregant. Catholics have been raised since birth to believe priests are God's representatives on earth, can forgive our sins, can turn wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Priests always hold an exalted position, and when they have any sexual involvement with parishioners, it is always wrong and hurtful.

There is an inherent power imbalance between clergy and church members. It is much like a doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. It's the duty of Minnesota’s Catholic bishops to help parishioners understand this and to speak out against this desperate legal move by one of their priests.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Bob Schwiderski (952-471-3422, skibrs@q.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, peterisely@yahoo.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

http://www.startribune.com/local/stpaul/124167378.html

St. Paul priest challenges sex charges

Article by: LORA PABST , Star Tribune Updated: June 19, 2011 - 9:11 PM

A priest accused of violating state law by allegedly having a sexual relationship with an adult parishioner will ask a Ramsey County judge on Monday to dismiss his felony criminal charge.

The Rev. Christopher Wenthe was charged in February with third-degree criminal sexual conduct after a woman reported to police that Wenthe took advantage of his position and her trust in him by engaging in a sexual relationship that lasted for more than a year.

Paul Engh, Wenthe's attorney, filed a motion arguing that the state law prohibiting a clergy member from having sex with a person who is seeking or receiving "religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private" is unconstitutional. In court records, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office said the law is constitutional and has been upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

District Judge Margaret Marrinan will hear arguments from both sides Monday.

"Any minister who has sex with anybody may be in trouble under this statute," Engh said last week. "It's an overly broad attempt to regulate sexual behavior."

Ramsey County prosecutors argued that the law criminalizes "exploitive, abusive behavior." Paul Gustafson, a spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney's office, declined to comment, citing the pending hearing.

"Like statutes prohibiting sexual relationships between patients and doctors, therapists, counselors and social workers, the power imbalance created in the clergy-counselee relationship lies at the heart of criminalizing any sexual relationship that may develop," prosecutors wrote in a memorandum opposing Engh's motion.

Cases charged under the clergy sexual misconduct statute are rare. Since the law was passed in 1993, only 10 cases have been filed, according to state records. In 2007, the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial for another priest, John Bussmann, finding that too much evidence regarding Catholic Church doctrine had been presented during his trial. However, the court was evenly split on whether the law was unconstitutional so it affirmed an earlier ruling by the state Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

Andrew Eisenzimmer, chancellor for civil affairs with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said the archdiocese has not taken a position on the constitutionality of the law. He said these types of cases are complex because of the restrictions on testimony about a particular religion's practices or beliefs.

"You're asking the jury to decide when a Catholic priest is actually counseling a follower," Eisenzimmer said.

Lasted longer than a year

The sexual relationship between Wenthe and the woman, now 29, began in November 2003 when Wenthe was a priest at Nativity of Our Lord Church in St. Paul. The woman told police that her spiritual adviser recommended she find a regular confessor in the Catholic Church so she chose Wenthe, whom she had met while attending a Catholic initiation class. She said Wenthe heard her confession at least four times, while he told police he heard her confession only one time and it was before their sexual relationship began.

According to the criminal complaint, the woman said she had been sexually abused as a child and suffered from an eating disorder. The first sexual encounter took place at Wenthe's rectory apartment after the woman had met with her counselor.

"I remember pleading with him that we should stop," the woman wrote in a 2006 letter to an archdiocese official. "He made me feel like I had done this to him and that I was obligated to finish the job."

The woman told police the sexual encounters happened about every two weeks, sometimes after mass in Wenthe's apartment or in the sacristy where priests change into their ceremonial garments. She eventually left the state to enter treatment for her eating disorder and the sexual encounters ended in February 2005. Although she had alerted the archdiocese about the relationship in 2006, she didn't contact police until 2010.

In court records, Engh wrote that the relationship was "centered on mutual affection."

"The issue here is whether friendship is counseling or can you as a priest have a friendship that is not counseling," Engh said last week.

Engh said the meaning of confession and whether it is "religious or spiritual advice, aid or comfort in private" is key to his client's defense. Engh argued in his motion that in the event of a trial, expert testimony would be needed "to explain the tenets of the Catholic faith as to what role and authority [Father] Wenthe had as a priest." However, he pointed out that similar testimony was what caused the state Supreme Court to reverse the Bussmann conviction.

In its memo, the county attorney's office said the complaint against Wenthe doesn't address church doctrine and instead reveals "the extreme vulnerability of [the victim] and the power differential that existed."

Wenthe is currently on a leave of absence until the conclusion of the case, Engh said. After undergoing a psychological evaluation and treatment, the archdiocese allowed Wenthe to return to active ministry in 2006 but he resigned from his position at Delano Catholic Community earlier this year.

Lora Pabst • 612-916-7212

http://www.kttc.com/Global/story.asp?S=14938682

Priest asks judge to dismiss sexual misconduct

Posted: Jun 20, 2011 6:27 AM CDT Updated: Jun 20, 2011 6:27 AM CDT

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A priest accused of misconduct for having a sexual relationship with a female parishioner will ask a Ramsey County judge Monday to dismiss a charge against him because it's unconstitutional.

Rev. Christopher Wenthe was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct after a woman told police Wenthe took advantage of position by having a sexual relationship with her for more than a year.

An attorney for the St. Paul priest, Paul Engh, says the meaning of Catholic confession is key to Wenthe's defense and whether it is spiritual advice. Wenthe said he heard the woman's confession one time before their relationship began. The woman says she confessed to Wenthe at least four times. Engh tells the Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/lVN1hl" target="_new">http://bit.ly/lVN1hl ) the law is an "overly broad attempt to regulate sexual behavior."

Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com" target="_new">http://www.startribune.com

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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