From the Mixed Up Files of a Roman Congregation: the Lost Case of Father Curtis Wehmeyer

By Jennifer Haselberger
Canonical Consultation
November 18, 2014

Yesterday, Emily Gurnon of the Pioneer Press reported that Father Curtis Wehmeyer was charged in Chippewa County, WI, with second-degree sexual assault arising from contact with an unconscious boy while on a camping trip in 2011. I was not surprised to learn that additional charges had been filed against Father Wehmeyer, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges related to his molestation of two minor males, as well as to seventeen counts of possession of child pornography. It has long been anticipated that additional victims would come forward.

I was not even surprised to learn that the new charges involved sexual contact alleged to have occurred during the time in which the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was supposedly monitoring Father Wehmeyer's behavior, and at approximately the same time that Father Kevin McDonough was opining that Father Wehmeyer was 'not really all that interested in an actual sexual encounter'.

What I did find surprising, however, was the final paragraph of the article, which stated,

    'The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has requested that
     he [Father Wehmeyer] be defrocked. Local leaders are awaiting
     a decision from the Vatican.'

This, I find mind-boggling. How can it be possible that this case has been languishing in Rome for two years, without a determination?

It is not as though there is an unresolved question as to his guilt. Father Wehmeyer pleaded guilty- with a straight plea- and the transcript of his plea allocution was included in the materials sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in November of 2012. At that court appearance, which occurred earlier in the same month, Father Wehmeyer admitted to the acts of which he had been accused, the criminal nature of those acts, and acknowledged that the victims were minors at the time that the abuse occurred. Furthermore, he denied that there were any mitigating circumstances that might have impacted his culpability.

Such a clear-cut case should have been resolved in a matter of months if not weeks. After all, there was no need to request a dispensation from prescription (the statute of limitations) or any other cause of canonical hangups. The abuse occurred in 2010 and was reported in 2012, Father Wehmeyer was ordained at the time, he was informed of his canonical rights and given the opportunity to respond and to freely resign, and the victims were obviously minors according to every possible definition of the term. There isn't any reason for the Congregation to insist on an ecclesiastical trial, since there was nothing that remains in dispute nor is any additional evidence likely to emerge. Even the punishment was predetermined- having admitted to acts of sexual abuse of minors, Father Wehmeyer had to be permanently removed from ecclesiastical ministry per the terms of the Essential Norms.

What, then, can be causing such a delay in response?

Well, one possible reason for the delay is the lack of interest shown on the part of Archbishop Nienstedt. As I testified in my affidavit, I prepared the case so that the Archbishop could personally deliver the file to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when he traveled to Rome for the November 2012 consistory. And, the acts of the case themselves referred to Wehmeyer's sentencing date in February of 2013, and our (my) hope that the matter could be resolved before then. However, the Archbishop refused to take the materials with him, as did Father Laird, who departed for Rome just a day or two after the Archbishop
. With no sense of urgency from the episcopacy, members of the Congregation may have simply pushed the case to the bottom of the pile.

The second possible reason for the lack of response may be similar to the reason we have been given as to why the Saint Paul Police Department reopened its investigations into the conduct of Father Wehmeyer (and Archbishop Nienstedt) in March of 2014- the cases had other elements that required investigation. Although little information has become available about the Holy See's process for investigating bishops, it would not surprise me if the Congregation was investigating either the Archbishop's personal relationship with Father Wehmeyer (which was a subject of investigation by Greene and Espel), and/or whether the Archdiocese and/or individual clergy members violated the civil mandatory reporting statute (the Congregation, of course, has all the materials, including the dated decrees and summaries). The latter point is especially salient given what is known about the Vatican investigation of Bishop Finn, who was convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.

These are just speculations, of course, flowing from, more than anything, my hope that there is some sort of reasonable explanation for the delay. Canon lawyers like to speak of 'justice delayed' as being synonymous with 'justice denied'. Without some sort of extenuating circumstance, it would appear that justice is indeed being denied to the victims of Curtis Wehmeyer, even as their numbers continues to grow.


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