Archdiocese settles civil abuse case with Ramsey County

Ramsey County attorney has scheduled news conference after 9 a.m. hearing.

Star Tribune, Minnesota/December 18, 2015

By Chao Xiong

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Ramsey County Attorney’s office reached a settlement agreement Friday morning in a precedent-setting civil case accusing it of failing to protect children from a predatory priest.

A criminal case against the church is ongoing and will be scheduled for another pretrial date in the future.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office said he will have a news conference soon.

Choi filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese last summer for its failed oversight of former priest Curtis Wehmeyer. Wehmeyer was convicted of sexually abusing two brothers in 2010 in a camper parked outside the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.

It is the first time a U.S. archdiocese has been charged with such an offense, and just the second time a U.S. archdiocese has been criminally indicted in a clergy abuse case, national legal scholars have said. Clergy abuse cases historically have focused on individual priests.

At a hearing in late October, archdiocese defense attorney Joe Dixon and Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Tom Ring appeared before Ramsey County Chief Judge Teresa Warner. Dixon did not enter a plea.

Both the criminal case — and the accompanying civil case — are being heard on the same schedule.

Since the charges were filed in June, Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché have resigned.

The only other archdiocese to face clergy abuse charges was Cincinnati, which in 2003 was found guilty of failing to report clergy sex abuse, said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University and a national expert on clergy abuse litigation.

The archdiocese is charged with three counts each of contributing to the need for child protection or services, and contributing to the delinquency of a child. The gross misdemeanor counts each carry a maximum fine of $3,000.

Chois’s office also filed a civil petition that it says “is intended to seek legal remedies to prevent the archdiocese from allowing this behavior to ever happen again.”

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