US & Canada

US archdiocese faces criminal charges for role in abuse case

Parishioners kneel during a prayer service at St. Olaf Catholic Church on 2 August 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption If convicted, the archdiocese would be fined several thousand dollars

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is facing criminal charges after US officials said church leaders ignored reports that a priest was molesting children.

Archdiocese is charged as a corporation with failing to protect children, but no individuals were charged.

Officials alleged that the archdiocese "turned a blind eye" to complaints about priest Curtis Wehmeyer for years.

Wehmeyer, now defrocked, was convicted of molesting two brothers in 2013.

`It is not only Curtis Wehmeyer who is criminally responsible for the harm caused, but it is the archdiocese as well,'' said Ramsey County prosecutor John Choi at a news conference on Friday.

"This organization said it protected children when in reality it did not", said Mr Choi who called the church's monitoring program for trouble priests "a sham".

Image copyright Minnesota Department of Corrections
Image caption Curtis Wehmeyer was defrocked and is currently in prison

Lawyers for the victims accused the church leadership of not acting on "numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct".

Had clergy acted more quickly, Wehmeyer would not have been able to destroy the evidence that he did.

St Paul Police Chief Tom Smith appealed for anyone with more information to contact police.

"This case is not about religion. It's about allegations of misconduct and crimes that were committed."

The archdiocese now faces a fine of a few thousand dollars (pounds) for the six charges which attorneys have said will symbolically hold the church accountable.

The archdiocese did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is home to about 825,000 Catholics.