Today’s Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) story about the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ failure to protect its parishioners from one of its predator priests, Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer, needs to be read by everyone. The headline – “Archdiocese knew of priest’s sexual misbehavior, yet kept him in ministry” – itself tells the story. From there, the details of Archdiocesan self-preservation and negligence are disserving and alarming.
In 2012, Wehmeyer was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and possessing child pornography in connection with Wehmeyer’s sexual abuse of two boys, ages 12 and 14, in a camper he kept parked outside Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul, where he served for six years. He supplied the two boys with alcohol and molested them in the camper.
Prior to Wehmeyer’s arrest in the summer of 2012 for sexually abusing the boys, the Archdiocese had ample information regarding his prior sexual conduct but failed to warn parishioners, according to MPR. The Archdiocese learned early on that Wehmeyer sexually propositioned young men at a bookstore, cruised a local park known for anonymous sex, solicited a teenager to camp with him, and approached another priest for sex, and yet the Archdiocese kept him in ministry, placing him a new parish in 2008 and 2010. Archdiocesan knowledge of the reports pre-dated Wehmeyer’s abuse of the two boys. “Top archdiocese leaders knew of Wehmeyer’s sexual compulsions for nearly a decade but kept him in the ministry and failed to warn parishioners …” according to today’s story, citing a former Archdiocesan canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, and dozens of other interviews and documents.
Rev. Kevin McDonough, the Archdiocesan Vicar General from 1991 – 2008, wrote in 2011, wrote in 2011 an internal memo defending the Archdiocese’s decision to keep Wehmeyer’s sexual behavior secret. Interviewed for today’s MPR story, McDonough continues to defend the Archdiocese’s handling of the Wehmeyer matter, “I have no regrets based on the information we have.”
Rev. McDonough’s defense of the Archdiocese is tragically familiar and at the same time outrageous. It is a tragedy that the Archdiocese had in its possession evidence that sounded an alarm about Wehmeyer, that he was a grave danger, and yet it chose to keep parishioners, parents, and children in peril by not disclosing the serious risk Wehmeyer posed.
That it’s a familiar story makes it all the more alarming and troubling. After all the years of survivors fighting to disgorge the secrets, reveal the truth, and force accountability within the Roman Catholic Church, the hierarchy proves again that it continues to protect its own reputation to avoid scandal at the peril of the children. The tragic and sordid handling of the Wehmeyer case begs the question, how many more priests continue to be concealed and protected by this Archdiocese, and this Archbishop?