Archdiocese followed mandated reporting requirements

| January 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

It calls lawyer’s statements alleging lies and obstruction of justice ‘false, inflammatory, and misleading’

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis complied with mandatory reporting laws in the case of former pastor Curtis Wehmeyer, it said in a Jan. 30 statement that reaffirmed the findings announced a day earlier by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.

The archdiocese’s compliance with reporting laws was acknowledged at a St. Paul press conference Jan. 29 attended by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith.

“We have continuously made ourselves available to law enforcement to address any outstanding questions they may have on the matter, and we know, based on the body of facts of the case, that the findings announced yesterday by civil authorities are accurate,” the archdiocese’s statement said.

The statement was released the same day that attorney Jeffrey Anderson filed a lawsuit against both the archdiocese and Wehmeyer on behalf of one of Wehmeyer’s victims. At a press conference Jan. 30, Anderson called Choi’s decision not to charge  archdiocesan officials “defective and deficient.” He accused Archbishop John Nienstedt and other Church officials of failing to observe mandatory reporting laws, lying and obstructing justice.

“Mr. Jeffrey Anderson’s assertions regarding the archdiocese are false, inflammatory, and misleading,” the archdiocese said. “We take particular exception to his unfounded assumptions regarding the intent and actions of Archbishop Nienstedt, who has been resolute in his commitment to strictly adhering to both canon and civil laws. We wish to reassert that we have cooperated with civil authorities and will continue to do so. We have a shared interest in protecting children and caring for victims.”

Wehmeyer, a former pastor at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, pleaded guilty in 2012 to sexually abusing two minors and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced in 2013 and is serving a five-year prison term.

State law requires mandated reporters — which include clergy members — to report suspected child abuse to the proper civil authorities within 24 hours, unless the communication is “privileged,” such as a communication made within a sacramental confession or other pastoral relationship.

Anderson referenced a church document during his news conference that called into question the timeline of the archdiocese’s reporting of Wehmeyer’s abuse. The document was written by former chancellor for canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger.

According to the archdiocese, the document reflects her perception of the timeline, which is inaccurate based on information and documentation provided to police.

The earliest that a representative of the archdiocese was made aware of a specific allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by Wehmeyer was on the morning of June 19, 2012, the archdiocese said. The information, however, was provided to a priest of the archdiocese within a privileged communication.

The archdiocese said it sought a waiver of the privilege so it could report the matter to police. The privilege was waived by the mother of the victim, the only person who could do so, on the afternoon of June 20. This allowed the archdiocese to make a formal report to police the same afternoon regarding the allegations shared within the context of the privileged communication.

“Undeniably, the report was made immediately thereafter,” the archdiocese said. “We have provided a detailed timeline to law enforcement with clear supporting documentation and stand ready to provide any additional information they may need.”

In a separate case, the Washington County Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against Father Jonathan Shelley after investigators found that pornographic images on his computer did not depict minors.

Father Shelley has been on leave since the investigation began. A previous investigation by police also found no evidence of child pornography on computer disks the archdiocese turned over to authorities. An assistant Washington County attorney also concluded there were no images of minors, as did a review by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Facts coming out

A memo regarding the Wehmeyer case distributed by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office at its Jan. 29 press conference outlined the sequence of events leading up to Wehmeyer’s arrest — from the time his sexual abuse of a child was disclosed to the archdiocese to the time the police wrote their official report on the matter on June 21, 2012.

The memo cites a June 20, 2012, email between Deacon John Vomastek and a police commander referencing an earlier discussion between the two about the allegation the child made against Wehmeyer and explained that Wehmeyer would be relieved of his duties the next day. Deacon Vomastek told The Catholic Spirit he again alerted police before leaving for the parish with Father Kevin McDonough on June 21 to tell Wehmeyer to leave the church’s premises. The official report written by St. Paul Police is dated the same day, according to the memo.

“It is clear that the archdiocese reported the abuse within 24 hours of receiving the abuse information directly from [the child],” the memo said.

“It’s good to see that the facts are finally coming out,” said Deacon Vomastek, who served on the St. Paul Police Department for 33 years. “An investigation is all about finding the truth. It’s about documenting what events transpired. It sounds to me now that they’re finally making headway in determining what, in fact, happened. And I feel good about that.”

“All we want to do is to do the right thing,” he added. “We want to uphold the law. We want to make sure we have a safe environment for kids. We want to make sure victims are cared for. We want to be transparent. These are all the things we continue to strive for.”

Looking ahead, Deacon Vomastek said, “we have some tremendous opportunities to forge relationships with law enforcement to continue to work better with them, and to continue to work on the way we communicate and coordinate our efforts so that we can work together and so we’re all on the same page.”

There have already been such opportunities in recent weeks.

Archdiocesan officials have had at least three meetings with representatives from the St. Paul Police Department since December, according to Joe Kueppers, the archdiocese’s chancellor for civil affairs. There has also been a “significant amount” of communication through emails, phone calls, letters and faxes.

“Right now the channels of communication between us and the St. Paul Police Department are wide open and functioning very well,” he said.

“We have always been willing to work with the police,” he said, whether in St. Paul or other cities in the 12 counties that comprise the archdiocese. “At no time were we not.”

Reaching out to victims

Choi called for all victims of any form of abuse to immediately come forward to civil authorities. Kueppers said that a person who becomes aware of an accusation of child sexual abuse should first contact civil authorities.

The point was reiterated by the archdiocese in a Jan. 29 statement. “If you suspect child sexual abuse, immediately contact the county social service agency or police; it is not your role to investigate,” it said. “Our website also has made contacting authorities easy by providing phone numbers for these civil authorities. We agree that reporting must always err on the side of protecting the victim and preventing harm.”

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