ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis publicly admitted wrongdoing Wednesday for the way it handled sexual abuse allegations against a former priest, while prosecutors dropped criminal charges that alleged the archdiocese turned a blind eye to repeated misconduct by the defrocked cleric.
The admission was part of an agreement in a lawsuit that calls for Archbishop Bernard Hebda to personally participate in at least three and likely more restorative justice sessions with abuse victims. The archbishop took the unusual step of attending the Wednesday hearing where the agreement was announced.
Ramsey County prosecutors filed civil and criminal charges against the archdiocese last year. The six gross misdemeanor child endangerment charges against the archdiocese involved Curtis Wehmeyer, who is serving prison time for molesting two boys in Minnesota and a third in Wisconsin.
The civil case was settled in December under a plan that allowed for more oversight of the church. But attorneys for both sides used Wednesday’s hearing on progress in the civil case to announce new steps aimed at reinforcing that agreement.
“The Archdiocese admits that it failed to adequately respond and prevent the sexual abuse” of the three victims, the archdiocese said in papers filed Wednesday.
“The Archdiocese failed to keep the safety and wellbeing of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese. The actions and omissions of the Archdiocese failed to prevent the abuse that resulted in the need for protection and services for these three children.”
Then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned from his post 10 days after the criminal charges were filed in June 2015. Hebda, who took over an archdiocese in turmoil about a year ago, apologized for its failures at a news conference later Wednesday.
“Those children, their parents, their family, their parish and others were harmed. We are sorry. I am sorry,” Hebda said.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said the victims’ family appreciated the admission of wrongdoing. He said they supported the measures to strengthen the settlement and his decision to drop the criminal charges.
“They were moved and satisfied that justice had been done,” the prosecutor said.
Choi also defended his decision not to file criminal charges against Nienstedt or other senior church officials for their handling of the Wehmeyer case. He said there wasn’t enough evidence against any individual to get a conviction, though there was against the archdiocese. He said the protections under the settlement are stronger than anything the court could have ordered.
Other changes announced Wednesday extend the court’s oversight until February 2020. And the archdiocese named nationally recognized child welfare advocate Patty Wetterling to its Ministerial Review Board, which examines abuse claims involving priests.