Convicted St. Paul priest should get new trial, Appeals Court rules

Star Tribune

Article by: JOY POWELL and ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
Updated: November 26, 2012

The state Court of Appeals found that a priest was improperly convicted on the basis of church doctrine, and not for a crime, in violation of Constitutional rights.

A Catholic priest who served eight months for having a sexual relationship with a woman, allegedly while he was meeting with her for spiritual counseling, will get a new trial because his Constitutional rights were violated, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

Christopher Thomas Wenthe, 46, was convicted last year of one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct during a religous-advice meeting. He maintained that it was a consensual relationship and that no crime was committed.

On Monday, the appellate court agreed, in part, and ordered a new trial for Wenthe in Ramsey County District Court.

In a two-part decision, the appellate judges upheld a Ramsey County judge’s decision that the state statute is based on secular standards — which do not involve religion matters — and therefore doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause, which holds that states can’t make laws establishing or preferring a religion, on its face.

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