Priest's 'Boundary Invasion' in Anoka County Alarmed Parents, Police Report Details
By Emily Gurnon
The Pioneer Press
January 7, 2014
When the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said late last month that it had placed two priests on leave because of inappropriate conduct with minors, it said the conduct was not sexual abuse.
It labeled the actions "boundary violations" and did not elaborate.
The Rev. Mark Wehmann of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Minneapolis, one of those on leave, had several of these incidents, some of which were reported to law enforcement, the archdiocese said in its Dec. 29 statement. The Rev. Joseph Gallatin of the Church of St. Peter in Mendota was also placed on leave.
One incident reported to law enforcement involving Wehmann was a 2006 Anoka County case, the Pioneer Press has learned. The sheriff's office investigated after the parents of the children involved reported the incident to Epiphany Catholic School in Coon Rapids. Law enforcement declined to seek charges, and the case was closed.
The sheriff's report gives this account of the incident:
Wehmann, who did not serve at the Coon Rapids parish, became friends with a family who had two children younger than 10. On a couple of occasions, while visiting their home, he gave the children what he called "root beer barrel kisses," in which two people place their cheeks together and stick their tongues toward their cheeks, the children's father told Detective Bryon Fuerst.
It was something "we had never seen anybody do before, and we thought that was kind of an intimate thing to do," the father said. "We sort of gave him a funny look and he said, 'Oh, it's a root beer barrel kiss,' " he said.
That day, the report says, Wehmann patted one of the children on the side of the hip as they sat side by side.
"It's common for them to playfully touch each other, but we're just not used to seeing people pat on that side of the bottom or whatever," the father said.
The detective said he saw in the report to the school that Wehmann "was observed lying on the bed or sitting on the bed" in the kids' bedroom. The father said Wehmann admitted he gave the children root beer barrel kisses when they were all playing in the bedroom.
The parents decided Wehmann's behavior was "a boundary invasion sort of intrusion ... it was a little odd but that's about it," the father told Fuerst.
Wehmann, 44, could not be reached for comment.
Before his transfer in July to St. Boniface, Wehmann served at St. Bridget's church in Lindstrom and St. Vincent de Paul in Brooklyn Park.
The archdiocese did not immediately respond to a question regarding whether its officials knew of the Anoka County incident.