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Minn. archdiocese apologizes for failures, as prosecutors drop abuse charges

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The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (photo/Robb & Jessie Stankey via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Filter added).

St. Paul, Minn., Jul 21, 2016 / 02:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis as its present and past archbishops apologized for failures to protect children from a sexually abusive priest.

“We failed to give priority to the safety and wellbeing of the children he hurt over his interests and those of the archdiocese. In particular, we failed to prevent him from sexually abusing children,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said on Wednesday.

“Those children, their parents, their family, their parish and others were harmed. We are sorry. I am sorry.” “I know that words alone are not enough. We must do better,” Archbishop Hebda said in a July 20 letter to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He added that “far-reaching changes are already underway.”

Prosecutors had charged the archdiocese with six criminal counts of failing to protect minors concerning the actions of the former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer, who has been laicized, is now serving a five-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of two minors and the possession of child pornography. Before he faced legal charges, archdiocesan officials knew of his misconduct. but the priest was still promoted to pastor of a parish.

Archbishop Hebda arrived in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to serve as its apostolic administrator in June 2015 He succeeded Archbishop John Nienstedt, who resigned after the archdiocese was criminally charged, in March 2016. Archbishop Emeritus Nienstedt, 69, said he resigned with “a clear conscience” and voiced support for his staff and for the archdiocese’s child protection protocols.

The archdiocese had filed for bankruptcy in January 2015. Its reorganization plan, announced in May 2016, includes legal settlements, a victim counseling fund, and the creation of an independent trust to pay claimants.

Archbishop Hebda’s statement promised progress. “I pledge to all victims and survivors, to the community, and to you, my brothers and sisters of this local Church, to move forward openly, collaboratively and humbly, and always mindful of our past,” he said. “We will never forget.” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi on July 20 said there is no basis to bring a criminal charges against any of the archdiocese’s leaders or the archdiocese. The investigation had lasted three years.

Choi agreed to dismiss the charges on condition that the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese admit it “failed to keep the safety and well-being of these three children ahead of protecting the interests of Curtis Wehmeyer and the Archdiocese.”

On July 20, Joe Dixon, counsel for the archdiocese, said that the dismissal of the charges is “unconditional and speaks for itself.” Archbishop Hebda said that after he arrived the archdiocese decided to cooperate with the county attorney “to try to make amends to those harmed and achieve justice for all in the broadest possible way.”

“Cooperation seems to have been the right avenue for achieving a just resolution,” he said. Archbishop Hebda said the civil settlement with Choi’s office commits to a course of action “that will keep kids as safe as possible.”

“I am grateful that his office will hold us accountable,” he said. “Today, we humbly acknowledge our past failures and look forward to continuing down that path to achieve those vital, common goals that together we all share.”

The archbishop asked for prayers for sex abuse victims and their families, and for himself, and promised that he would pray for the faithful of the archdiocese.  

Archbishop Emeritus Nienstedt also apologized for his response to sexual abuse allegations against priests in his archdiocese. “Words cannot express the sorrow I feel for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families, their friends and our Catholic community,” he said. “In particular, I am sorry for the way the archdiocese, under my leadership, addressed the allegations against Curtis Wehmeyer.” “As the archbishop, I should have asked more questions, I should have demanded more answers, and I should have insisted those within the archdiocesan administration at the time share more information with each other,” he added. “I am sorry.”

The legal agreement also made public a July 2014 memo from Father Dan Griffith, an archdiocesan priest who was a liaison to the lawyers conducting an independent investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt. The memo concerned charges of criminal and sexual misconduct against the archbishop, and indicated that former apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, had prematurely ordered the end of the investigation and ordered destruction of evidence when he told two auxiliary bishops to destroy their objecting letter to him.

Archbishop Emeritus Nienstedt, who had approved the independent investigation, rejected all the sexual misconduct claims, and contended that the claims came from those who opposed his management decisions and his defense of Catholic teaching, especially on homosexuality.

Father Griffith said in a statement that he stood by his memo and he has confidence in Archbishop Hebda, the New York Times reports.

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