MN - SNAP calls for grand jury probe of archdiocese

For immediate release: Monday, Sept. 23

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])

It seems clear that at least three top Catholic officials hid, tampered with, or tried to tamper with evidence in a recent clergy sex abuse case. In light of this, we call on Minnesota prosecutors to open a grand jury investigation into the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese’s handling of clergy sex crimes.

A lengthy Minnesota Public Radio story details how high-ranking staff of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese kept Fr. Curtis C. Wehmeyer on the job despite “repeated troubling actions by and allegations against” the priest. 

Last year, Fr. Wehmeyer pled guilty to 20 charges related to criminal sexual conduct against two St. Paul boys and possession of child pornography.

At least three archdiocesan staffers - Fr. Kevin McDonough, Deacon John Vomastek and Greta Sawyer - acted recklessly and inappropriately, and did so, we believe, with the intent to hide or minimize Fr. Wehmeyer’s crimes.

--Fr. Kevin McDonough and Deacon John Vomastek

In 2012, “Before police arrived, McDonough and (Deacon John Vomastek) confronted Wehmeyer at the Blessed Sacrament rectory, according to police. McDonough took the priest's handgun and one of his computers.”

We can’t help but wonder if Fr. McDonough destroyed or tampered with evidence – either on the computer or elsewhere. Without a grand jury investigation, Twin Cities Catholics and citizens will never know whether this prominent and powerful Catholic official helped or tried to help a criminal hide some of his crimes.

Keep in mind that Fr. McDonough is no rookie. He was the archbishop's second in command for nearly 20 years, “has long been a leader within the archdiocese,” oversaw “all (archdiocesan) child abuse efforts” and “likely knows more about clergy sexual abuse cases than anyone else at the archdiocese,” according to MPR.

Because of his vast knowledge and experience in clergy sex cases and cover-ups, Fr. McDonough can’t claim he ‘didn’t understand’ Fr. Wehmeyer’s crimes or how to respond to them. And because of his power and connections, Fr. McDonough had access to every important archdiocesan player, so he can’t pretend he lacked sufficient information to act properly.

Instead, he acted secretively, deceptively, recklessly and callously, enabling Fr. Wehmeyer to have more access to more vulnerable families.

-- Greta Sawyer

According to MPR, Sawyer – the archdiocese’s victims assistance director – “recorded an interview with the (alleged victim) before anyone who worked for the police had talked to him.”

She had no business doing that. That’s the job of the police. And remember, this was last year, long after Catholic officials pledged to reform. Yet Sawyer, no doubt with the OK of her church supervisors, insisted on interviewing a teenager, an alleged child sex abuse victim, before police could.

We in SNAP are not prosecutors. But we believe Fr. McDonough, Deacon John Vomastek and Ms. Sawyer may have broken the law in several ways. The actions of both of these individuals alone merit a more substantive, detailed investigation by law enforcement into the archdiocese and how it deals with known and suspected child sex crimes.

It’s important to realize that years before Fr. Wehmeyer was arrested, MPR reports, top archdiocesan staffers knew that Fr. Wehmeyer had “engaged in troubling sexual encounters — that he had approached young men for sex at a bookstore and cruised nearby parks” where anonymous sexual encounters often took  place. In 2009, he was arrested on – and later pled guilty to – charges of drunk driving. Police said he was asking young men, ages 18-21, if they wanted to party with him at a state park.”

This case is eerily reminiscent of recent cases in Philadelphia and Kansas City In which high ranking Catholic officials kept information, suspicions and evidence about clergy sex crimes hidden from police, prosecutors, parishioners and the public. In both of those dioceses, top church staffers – Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City and Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia – were convicted of endangering kids and concealing evidence. 

We believe that investigations into the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese would reveal other troubling and perhaps illegal cover ups too.

Finally, it’s also worth noting, for the sake of accuracy, that although he is suspended, Fr. Wehmeyer remains a priest. He has not been defrocked. (Many assume that once a child molesting cleric is convicted or pleads guilty, he is no longer a priest. That’s not true.)

The crimes took place at Blessed Sacrament parish on St. Paul's East Side. Fr. Wehmeyer is a Minneapolis native

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Bob Schwiderski of Wayzata 952-471-3422, [email protected] Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])

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