At the same time it was telling its 800,000 parishioners that it took every measure to protect kids from child-molesting priests, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was deliberately whitewashing the sexual proclivities of one such priest who ended up going to prison for abusing two boys and possessing child porn.
As early as 2001, when he was studying for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary, church offcials had their doubts about Curtis Wehmeyer, according to an investigation by Minnesota Public Radio.
“They were concerned that Fr. Wehmeyer was setting himself up for failure by pursuing a vocation -- and I remember this part -- ‘whose burdens he simply will not be able to carry,’” said a former lawyer for the archdiocese, Jennifer Haselberger.
They were right, and in 2004 reports of Wehmeyer (pictured) cruising a local Barnes and Noble store trying to pick up young men reached Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese -- second in command to the archbishop. The archdiocese soon began actively keeping tabs on Wehmeyer’s behavior.
In 2009, when Wehmeyer was campaigning for the pastor’s job at Blessed Sacrament Church in St. Paul, Haselberger composed a memo to the archdiocese detailing Wehmeyer’s history, which by then included another cruising incident in a local public park and a psychological evaluation of the priest by a hospital where he was treated after the booskstore incident.
But Wehmeyer got the job anyway. Later that year he was arrested for driving drunk by police who were investigating reports that he was approaching high school boys and asking them to take him to parties.
The following year, he lured two boys, brothers ages 12 and 14 whose father worked at Blessed Sacrament, into the camper that Wehmeyer often parked in the church lot. Inside, he showed them samples of his kiddie porn collection, offered them cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana and sexually assaulted them. The abuse continued for tow months.
Last year, Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to molesting the two boys as well as to owning child pornography.
Such cases sadly have not been unusual in the Catholic Church. But this one could have been stopped before it happened.
“At every step of the way, this was preventable,” Haelberger told MPR.
In 2011, McDonough authored a memo discouraging the archdiocese from disclosing details of Wehmeyer’s history to church employees.
"I think that you share with me the opinion that he really was not all that interested in an actual sexual encounter, but rather was obtaining some stimulation by 'playing with fire,'" McDonough wrote. "This sort of behavior would not show up in the workplace."
SOURCES: Minnesota Public Radio, Associated Press