Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A New Trial for Fr. Wenthe

A Catholic priest who had served time for having a sexual relationship with a woman...

A criminal offence?

I wrote about Fr. Wenthe before - without checking back on what I wrote, I think I was sad, mad, and self-righteous to some degree.  I was disappointed in the failings of another priest.  I assessed matters on what was reported in the news as well as what was reported to me by those who 'knew' him.  I said I knew him, but only as a priest, not a friend or a colleague.  That said, Wenthe is slated for a new trial on grounds his constitutional rights were violated.  It is good news.  Why?  Because the punishment doesn't fit the crime - if in fact, a crime was committed at all.

Both parties appear to be consenting adults.  No one was raped.  I know of similar stories of women, spiritual directees, who had sex with their priest.  Unethical, immoral, sinful, to be sure, but in the few cases I know about, the women consented - although they could possibly be considered vulnerable adults, having issues with depression and so on, thus seeking direction and counsel from the priest.  Like a doctor or psychiatrist, the priest is considered to possess 'enormous power and influence' over the victim.  The law in Minnesota was designed to protect victims from such influence.  I understand all of that.  But... 

I'm very happy Wenthe has another chance.  The story here:
A Catholic priest who had served time 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 religious-advice meeting. He maintained that it was a consensual relationship and that no crime was committed. 
Monday, the appellate court ordered a new trial for Wenthe in Ramsey County. - Finish reading here.
We'll see what the court says.  I think 'consenting adults' may be the key - we are not talking minors here.  As Fr. Benedict Groeschel once said: "on their first offense, they should not go to jail because their intention was not committing a crime."  Naive as that statement may be, and though he was mistaken as regards minors, it just might be applicable in Fr. Wenthe's case.


  1. I think this will be difficult to convict; they have to somehow prove that sexual activity took place in the context of religious counseling but without relying on Church rules. If they had anything secular to use, they wouldn't have relied on Church rules the first time. No allegations that he pressured her because of his position; just the fact he was a priest and she believes priests are holy, not enough.

    What I found interesting is that a) the state said they wouldn't rely on religious rules; b) therefore, the priest wasn't allowed a jury instruction that they must consider only MN law; and c) the state relied on church rules. Priest was also not allowed to bring in testimony on her prior sexual conduct; alleging she's easy is one thing and irrelevant, alleging she has had similar relationships with someone in an authoritative position to their detriment would be something else altogether.

    What bothered me the most is that she only brought suit after finding out that the Church didn't do what she wanted; Abp. Flynn took him out of the parish but Abp. N assigned him to a parish; he hadn't committed any crime. Having a consensual sexual relationship with an adult after promising celibacy makes him a tool but not a criminal.


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