Wehmeyer pleads guilty in Wisconsin

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Curtis Wehmeyer, the former priest at the center of the St. Paul-Minneapolis clergy sexual abuse scandal, pleaded guilty Aug. 14 in a Wisconsin county courthouse to sexual assault of a teenager.

According to electronic court filings by the Chippewa County Circuit Court, Wehmeyer, who turns 51 in September, pleaded guilty on one felony count of third degree sexual assault, and was sentenced to serve three years in prison following the conclusion of his prison sentence in Minnesota, which is set to end in May 2016, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

In November, prosecutors in Wisconsin had originally charged Wehmeyer with second-degree sexual assault related to sexual contact with a teenager dating back to a summer 2011 camping trip. Wade Newell, Chippewa County assistant district attorney, told NCR they amended the charge down in return for the three years in prison and three years supervision, which can overlap with the required supervision from his 2012 Minnesota conviction.

Newell said the victim, who turned 18 in August of that year, sought a similar sentence for Wehmeyer to the one he received in Minnesota.

In February 2013, Wehmeyer was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in November 2012 to three felony counts of criminal sexual misconduct with two male minors and 17 federal counts of possession of child pornography. That abuse occurred in 2010, part of it taking place in a camper trailer he parked outside Blessed Sacrament Parish, in St. Paul, where he was pastor from 2006 to 2012.

In the Wisconsin case, Newell said Wehmeyer made sexual contact with the teen during a camping trip to Brunet Island State Park during the summer of 2011. The attorney said the victim was unconscious at the time after passing out from consuming alcohol, and that no sexual intercourse occurred.

During the Friday hearing, Wehmeyer addressed the victim and apologized.

"He took full responsibility for it. That was good on his part to own up to his behavior in front of the victim," Newell said.

In March, the Vatican removed Wehmeyer from the priesthood. He is currently being held at Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes.

The criminal charges brought in June by Ramsey County, Minn., prosecutor John Choi against the Twin Cities archdiocese were based on the three Wehmeyer victims. In announcing the charges, along with a civil petition, Choi said that in the case of Wehmeyer, the archdiocese failed to "responsibly and meaningfully respond to numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct."

"It was not only Curtis Wehmeyer who harmed children, but it was the Archdiocese as well," Choi said.

The case evidence presented by Ramsey County, as well as reporting by MPR based in part on conversations with former chancellor Jennifer Haselberger, suggest the archdiocese knew of concerns of inappropriate sexual behavior with Wehmeyer as early as 2004 -- or eight years before his June 2012 arrest.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify how MPR learned of concerns regarding Wehmeyer.

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