MN - Victims want Catholic officials disciplined

And group wants archbishop to hold open public meeting

In sharply worded letter, SNAP blasts “recklessness, callousness and deceit"

For Immediate Release: September 30, 2013

For more information: David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP Director 314-566-9790 cell, [email protected], Bob Schwiderski of Wayzata 952-471-3422, [email protected]

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is writing Minnesota’s top Catholic bishop urging him to discipline at least three church employees over how they handled the case of a priest who was convicted for molesting two children. The group also wants church officials to hold an open meeting to answer questions from parishioners and the public about the case.

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.

But years before, 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,” according to MPR.

Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests want St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt to “harshly and publicly discipline” staffers Fr. Kevin McDonough, Deacon John Vomastek and Greta Sawyer.

Fr. McDonough knew of Fr. Wehmeyer’s sexual misdeeds in 2004. Yet in 2011, McDonough wrote memo advising that the allegations against Fr. Wehmeyer be kept secret. And in 2012, when police knew about the accusations, “Before police arrived, McDonough and (Deacon John) Vomastek. . .took one of (Fr. Wehmeyer’s) computers.”

This, SNAP says, could amount to tampering with evidence.

Greta Sawyer, an archdiocesan staffer, “recorded an interview with the (victim), before anyone who worked for the police had talked to him,” according to MPR.

SNAP believes “others should likely be disciplined or demoted as well, but based on church documents about this case and the uncontroverted behavior of these deceitful officials, it’s crystal clear that these three should at least face severe consequences for their serious wrongdoing.”

“Across the world, time and time again, we see the same alarming pattern in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases,” said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP’s Director. “Catholic officials ignore warning signs, hide sexual misdeeds, and when caught, nothing happens to them. So other Catholic officials mimic these self-serving but hurtful moves.”

“Ignoring wrongdoing encourages more wrongdoing,” said Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s Outreach Director. “Sometimes in the church, those who commit clergy sex crimes and misdeeds are punished. But virtually never are those who conceal clergy sex crimes and misdeeds punishes. So church employees keep right on concealing clergy sex crimes and misdeeds.”

“We care less about exactly what punishment is meted out,” said Clohessy. “We care more that the punishment is quick and severe and public, so others will be deterred from acting as irresponsibly and selfishly as Fr. McDonough and these other two acted.”

It’s especially important, the group says, that McDonough experience tough consequences.

Fr. McDonough was vicar general — the archbishop's second in command — from 1991 to 2008. He's pastor of two parishes and has long been a leader within the archdiocese.

According to MPR, “McDonough likely knows more about clergy sexual abuse cases than anyone else at the archdiocese. He served as vicar general from 1991 to 2008 under Archbishops John Roach and Harry Flynn and more recently served as the ‘delegate for safe environment,’ a job that includes oversight of all child abuse prevention efforts in the archdiocese. He quietly left that role earlier this month.

“Given his vast knowledge and experience in clergy sex cases, Fr. McDonough can’t claim he ‘didn’t understand’ what was at stake. And he had access to every important archdiocesan player, so he can’t pretend he lacked sufficient information to act,” said Clohessy.  “Even now, based on his comments made last week, it’s clear that Fr. McDonough shows no remorse whatsoever for his secretive and deceptive and reckless and callous actions that enabled Fr. Wehmeyer to have more access to more vulnerable families.”

Fr. Wehmeyer’s crimes took place at Blessed Sacrament parish on St. Paul's East Side. Fr. Wehmeyer is a Minneapolis native. Though suspended, Fr. Wehmeyer remains a priest. He has not been defrocked.

A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and email, is available on request.

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