Share

Suit seeks to hold Vatican at fault for abuse by US priests

Share

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Three brothers who were sexually abused by a priest from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Vatican, claiming the Holy See bears responsibility because the case was mishandled by former Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States.

The lawsuit attempts to trace a direct line from clergy sex abuse victims to the Vatican, through Minnesota church officials. Luke, Stephen and Ben Hoffman were abused by former priest Curtis Wehmeyer, roughly between 2009 and 2012.

“I have too many nieces and nephews to let something like this happen to anybody else,” Stephen Hoffman said about his decision to come forward.

Nienstedt and the former ambassador, Carlo Maria Viganò, have previously denied the allegations raised in the lawsuit. The Vatican’s U.S. lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, had no immediate comment. In the past Lena has described sex abuse lawsuits against the Vatican as publicity stunts.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include two other men who say they were molested by Catholic priests, one in Minnesota and one in California. Those two men sued the Vatican separately within the last year, but attorney Jeff Anderson withdrew their cases in anticipation of Tuesday’s lawsuit. Anderson had also sued the Vatican on two prior occasions without success.

Trending:
No Woke Agenda in Court: Rittenhouse Judge Says Rioters Can't Be Called 'Victims,' Approves This List Instead

Anderson said he believes the new lawsuit is stronger because he’s made a more complete effort to document Vatican authority over Catholic clerics and to portray the church as a commercial enterprise. The Hoffman brothers’ involvement also allowed him to bring in issues surrounding Nienstedt, which he says are emblematic of how church leaders have covered up abuse.

“The body of evidence and the scope of the complaint is much broader and much more developed than the first time we litigated this,” Anderson said.

Because it has the status of a foreign nation, the Vatican is generally exempt from lawsuits in the United States. Exceptions to the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act include wrongful acts committed against U.S. citizens and commercial activities undertaken by foreign nations.

The new lawsuit seeks monetary damages, but the plaintiffs said truth is the goal. The lawsuit asks for court orders requiring the Vatican to turn over names of “credibly accused” priests whose cases have been referred to the Holy See, along with related records. It also seeks names of church leaders who have been implicit in covering up abuse.

Ben Hoffman said the church needs to be more transparent and “live in the truth.”

“I’m still Catholic. I have a deep love for the church. I have a deep love for my faith, it means the world to me. But the Vatican — we have to fix this,” he said, his eyes watering.

Before the Hoffman brothers were abused, church officials received complaints about Wehmeyer’s inappropriate sexual activities. In 2004, he was cited for loitering in a Minnesota park known as a place to meet for anonymous sex, and he lied to police about his identity, the lawsuit says.

Wehmeyer was later evaluated at a treatment center for troubled priests and diagnosed with a sexual disorder. The archbishop at the time, Harry Flynn, moved him from West St. Paul to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul and assigned him to administrative duties.

But in 2009, about the time Wehmeyer started abusing the Hoffman brothers, Nienstedt promoted Wehmeyer to pastor. According to the lawsuit, another archdiocesan official cautioned Nienstedt — then newly installed as archbishop — about the promotion and informed him of Wehmeyer’s record, to no avail.

Related:
Pennsylvania Man Learns the Hard Way Why You Must Pay For What You Drink

Over the next three years, Wehmeyer abused the Hoffman brothers, who were in their mid-teens, during camping trips. After the boys’ mother reported the abuse of at least two of her sons to police, Wehmeyer was arrested and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and possession of child pornography.

The AP does not routinely name victims of sexual abuse, but the plaintiffs have chosen to speak publicly.

Wehmeyer’s arrest led local prosecutors to file criminal charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children. The charges were dropped in 2016 when the archdiocese admitted wrongdoing and agreed to meet with victims and adopt stronger measures to prevent clergy abuse.

Wehmeyer’s arrest also triggered the resignation of Nienstedt after the archdiocese retained a law firm to look into his supervision of Wehmeyer. The investigation alleged Nienstedt had sexually harassed priests and seminarians and had a “social relationship” with Wehmeyer.

Controversy surrounding Nienstedt escalated when a priest involved in the investigation wrote a memo saying that Viganò ordered church officials to end the inquiry and instructed them to destroy a letter they wrote to him objecting to his directive.

Viganò flatly denied those allegations in a statement last year. “I never told anyone that (the law firm) should stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document be destroyed,” he said. “Any statement to the contrary is false.”

Nienstedt, who is not a defendant in the case, also denies the allegations. In a response to emailed questions from the AP on Tuesday, Nienstedt said his interaction with Wehmeyer was in the context of archbishop to priest.

“During my time as Archbishop, I was made aware of some challenges Wehmeyer was facing, but was not made aware that he may be inappropriately or illegally involved with minors,” Nienstedt wrote. He said that as archbishop, he ensured Wehmeyer was complying with conditions placed on him, including attending counseling.

Nienstedt wrote that Wehmeyer was being supervised and doing what was asked of him, and the decision to promote him was made in consultation with others.

“I would never knowingly cover up clergy sexual abuse,” Nienstedt wrote.

Nienstedt also said he’s unaware of a final report that came out of the investigation into him, but he reiterated that even though the allegations are false, he directed that the investigation be carried out, as he would have done for any other priest.

___

Rezendes reported from Boston.

The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →



loading

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

Tags:
Share
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
Location
New York City




loading

Conversation