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State Supreme Court to reconsider clergy sexual abuse case

The Minnesota Supreme Court is going to take another look at State v. Christopher Thomas Wenthe, a case that has been reviewed by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals again.

The case involves Wenthe, a Catholic priest, who was engaged in a sexual relationship with a female parishioner from 2003 to 2005. The alleged abuse was reported to police in 2010. The ensuing criminal case has subjected the state clergy sexual abuse statute to court scrutiny.

In Wenthe’s first appeal from his conviction for third-degree sexual misconduct, the Court of Appeals found the clergy misconduct statute, as applied, to be unconstitutional in violation of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court reversed, finding it did not violate the First Amendment, and sent it back to the Court of Appeals to consider the other issues raised on appeal.

In its second look at the case, the Court of Appeals reversed Wenthe’s conviction, finding that a jury must agree on which sexual act constituted clergy sexual misconduct. The court also found that there must be evidence that the defendant knew that the meeting where the sexual act occurred was intended to have a religious or spiritual purpose.

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