MPR News Investigation: Archdiocese leaders knew of priests sexual compulsions years before he pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse

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Listen: MPR News Investigation: Top archdiocese leaders knew of priests sexual compulsions years before he pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse

A St. Paul priest is serving a five year prison sentence for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography. When he was sentenced, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis expressed regret, but assured the public that it had acted immediately. An MPR News investigation has found that top leaders knew of the priest's sexual behavior for nearly a decade before he pleaded guilty and didn't tell parishioners.


2013 NBNA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Investigative - Large Market Radio category


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KATHY WURZER: I'm Kathy Wurzer. A Saint Paul priest is serving a five year prison sentence for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography. When he was sentenced in February, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis expressed regret, but assured the public that it had acted immediately.

An MPR News investigation has found that top leaders knew of the priest's sexual behavior for nearly a decade before he pleaded guilty and did not tell parishioners. A warning, this story contains graphic descriptions. Madeleine Baran has more.

MADELEINE BARAN: Jennifer Haselberger is convinced that Father Curtis Waymire could have been stopped.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: At every step of the way, this could have been prevented. This is just failure after failure after failure after failure.

MADELEINE BARAN: Haselberger is speaking publicly for the first time. For five years, she worked as the canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul in Minneapolis. It was her job to advise the Archbishop on the laws of the Roman Catholic Church, which includes specific rules on confronting grave sins, like child abuse. She also ran the records department.

Haselberger's concern with Father Waymire began in 2008 when she checked his personnel file on a routine matter. Waymire, who was serving at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saint Paul, had been a priest in the Archdiocese for seven years. Haselberger noticed there wasn't a background check on Waymire, even though the Archdiocese requires it. She called Waymire.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: We need to get a background check done on you.

MADELEINE BARAN: And what was his reaction to that?

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: Unexpected. He was really uncomfortable about that.

MADELEINE BARAN: Waymire's eventual background check didn't uncover any criminal history. But as Haselberger dug deeper into the files, she realized Waymire had a sex addiction and the Archdiocese knew about it. The Roman Catholic Church had a very public reckoning with the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002. Thousands of victims of abuse came forward and demanded the Church report sex crimes to police.

The Church created new policies like background checks for every priest and mandatory child abuse prevention training. The days of a predator being shipped from one parish to another were supposed to be over. Waymire was a new priest who had come up after these new policies and procedures were put in place. Haselberger saw evidence that, even early in his career, Waymire struggled with celibacy.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: Well, one thing I remember seeing in the file at the time is the Archdiocese received reports that Father Waymire had propositioned some young men at a Barnes and Noble.

MADELEINE BARAN: That report led Harry Flynn, the Archbishop at the time, to send Waymire to a treatment center in Maryland that specializes in psychological evaluations of clergy. When Waymire came back, he started going to a group for sex addicts. Flynn allowed the priest to keep track of his own attendance and, in 2006, appointed Waymire administrator of Blessed Sacrament Church in Saint Paul.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: And within months of that appointment, a Ramsey County Sheriff's officer came to the Chancery to report that Father Waymire had been spotted repeatedly cruising at different locations where it was known that homosexual men went looking for anonymous sexual encounters.

MADELEINE BARAN: The officer who stopped Waymire confirmed the details with MPR News. More complaints came in to the Archdiocese about Waymire, three complaints in 2009 alone. One incident came after midnight on Waymire's 45th birthday when the police arrested him for drunk driving. They caught him at a gas station asking teenagers where the party was. He tried to convince a teenage boy to get into his pickup truck to go to his campsite.

Haselberger says, that same year, a priest reported to the Archdiocese that Waymire propositioned him for sex. And she says, someone else told the Archdiocese of seeing Waymire acting suspiciously with one or two boys at a campground. They were the same boys Waymire would later be accused of sexually abusing. Spending the night alone with children is a violation of the Archdiocese child safety policy.

In 2010, the new Archbishop, John Nienstedt, was considering a promotion for Waymire despite his past. Haselberger sent him a memo, warning of Waymire's risky behavior and urging him to review the file.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: And I remember thinking that, at the time, all I have to do is tell him this and the argument is done.

MADELEINE BARAN: What was the response to your memo to the Archbishop?

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: They appointed him pastor of two parishes. I didn't understand it. I mean, that's the best thing that I can say is I just didn't understand it.

MADELEINE BARAN: The Archdiocese declined to provide interviews with the Archbishop or his Vicar General about Waymire's appointment to Blessed Sacrament and Saint Thomas the Apostle. Haselberger says parishioners and employees were kept in the dark about Waymire's sexual behavior.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: Nobody at the parish was told, look out.

MADELEINE BARAN: And they were supposed to be told that?


MADELEINE BARAN: For 25 years, the man tasked with handling priests with sexual problems in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was Father Kevin McDonough. McDonough disagrees that Waymire's history should have triggered disclosure at the parish.

KEVIN MCDONOUGH: To say that we had a responsibility to inform the general public that this human being was wrestling with same sex attractions, that doesn't seem to me to be very reasonable at all. And there's nothing we knew at the time that would suggest that he would have constituted a danger to kids, I'm sorry we didn't know that at the time. He'd have been out of the priesthood long before.

MADELEINE BARAN: At Blessed Sacrament Church, Waymire kept a small white camper parked close to the rectory, right where the young boys of a parish employee rode their bikes. Police files would later show Waymire lured the boys ages 12 and 14 into the camper and gave them beer and showed them pornography. Then, the priest told the boys to drop their pants and touch themselves. At least once, he touched one of the boys. Waymire told the boy that, if he ever said anything, he'd be fired and the parish would fall apart. The boy said nothing. While all of this was happening, Haselberger says the Archdiocese was supposed to be carefully monitoring Waymire.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: The police reports indicate that even the janitors knew he was bringing kids there. So you know, that it escaped the notice of our monitoring program, it's a little hard to explain.

MADELEINE BARAN: McDonough says the Archdiocese Monitoring Program was developed by a former police chief and follows a probationary model. He calls it state of the art. MPR News obtained from the police a private church memo written by McDonough in 2011 that said, employees of the parish did not need to know that Father Waymire, their pastor, was roaming the Twin Cities looking for sex with young men.

McDonough wrote that Waymire, quote, "really was not all that interested in an actual sexual encounter, but rather was obtaining some stimulation by playing with fire," end quote. McDonough was confident this type of behavior would not show up in the workplace. He wrote, quote, "my recommendation is that we would encourage, or even require, Father Waymire to disclose his pattern of self-destructive behavior to a small circle of trusted friends," end quote. He asked the priest himself whether he thought parish employees should know about his sexual compulsions. By that point, Waymire was already sexually abusing the children of an employee at the parish. He advised against disclosure.

JEFF ANDERSON: They haven't changed their way.

MADELEINE BARAN: Saint Paul attorney Jeff Anderson has been investigating the Church and suing on behalf of victims since the '80s. He's been saying for years that the Church continues to harbor priests who are a threat to children.

JEFF ANDERSON: This memo, to me, demonstrates complicity, choices to keep it secret. And it begs the question, how many more are there?


MADELEINE BARAN: The bells of Blessed Sacrament can be heard in a recording of the police investigator showing up at the parish to question Waymire about the abuse allegations in June of last year.

SPEAKER 1: My thought was just to give you an opportunity for an interview and then you're free to go.

MADELEINE BARAN: The Church averted an avalanche of bad publicity by emphasizing its prompt response to the allegations. MPR'S coverage in September of 2012 included this praise for Ramsey County attorney John Choi.

JOHN CHOI: Well, I want to particularly say something about the Archdiocese here at St. Paul, Minneapolis in terms of how they handled the response to this particular case. I want to applaud them because they did the right thing. As soon as they got the complaint from the boy's mother, they immediately called the police. And then they took immediate action and removed him from his position at the parish. And so that was the right response and we appreciate that in law enforcement.

MADELEINE BARAN: But police records show the Archdiocese did not immediately go to police. They waited several days. And before police arrived on the scene, McDonough and the director of clergy services went to Blessed Sacrament and told Waymire about the allegations. They took his gun and laptop and ordered him to leave.

The lead criminal investigator says he thinks Waymire used that time to destroy evidence. He also says he didn't have access to the priest's personnel file. In February, Waymire pleaded guilty to 17 counts of possession of child pornography and three counts of criminal sexual conduct. He's currently in prison in Saint Cloud and declined to be interviewed. The Archdiocese says it's asked the Pope to remove Waymire from the priesthood and is waiting to hear back.

In a statement last November the Archdiocese said it deeply regrets the pain caused by Waymire's criminal action and continues to offer support and assistance to all concerned. Behind the scenes, Haselberger was furious that there was no attempt to review all the failures that had allowed a man with a known sexual addiction to continue in ministry and have access to children.

JENNIFER HASELBERGER: There wasn't a lot of senior staff there that shouldn't have been wearing sackcloth and ashes and praying the rosary around the cathedral in the hopes that people would forgive us for letting this happen.

MADELEINE BARAN: From what Haselberger could see, Church leaders were more worried about liability and bad press and spun the story as the Church doing the right thing by coming forward. Haselberger says her forceful pushing to enforce the Church's own procedures on the Waymire case led superiors to refer to her as belligerent and to cut her out of the loop at the Chancery. Haselberger resigned in April.

The family of the victims at Blessed Sacrament declined to comment. In a victim impact statement read in court, the mother said, she had hoped one of her sons would become a priest. Father Kevin McDonough quietly left his job as delegate for safe environment earlier this month. He says, he stands by the Church's handling of Waymire.

KEVIN MCDONOUGH: I have tremendous, tremendous regrets about the outcome. I wish we'd have known more information and been able to prevent these terrible, terrible crimes from happening. But I have no regrets based on the information we have. I don't think any reasonable person could conclude from the information we had that this was a person likely to harm minors.

MADELEINE BARAN: Police continue to investigate whether Waymire may have sexually abused more children. Madeleine Baran. Minnesota Public Radio News.

KATHY WURZER: That's a report about how the Archdiocese has handled a priest who has a history of sexual problems. MPR News staffers and reporter Sasha Aslanian, Mike Croman, Tom Scheck, and Meg Martin contributed to this report. Right now, at, you can read the private memo written about Father Waymire, see a timeline of the case, and learn much more about how the Archdiocese responded to his case.


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