Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Former Delano priest charged with criminal sexual conduct
Feb. 21, 2011

Wenthe no longer pastor of Delano Catholic Community

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

RAMSEY COUNTY, MN – Father Christopher Wenthe, identified as the “former pastor of the Delano Catholic Community,” was arrested Thursday on a charge of criminal sexual conduct with an adult, according to a statement issued Thursday by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The reported incidents occurred between November 2003 and February 2005, when Wenthe was working at Nativity Church in St. Paul, according to documents.

Wenthe, 46, came to Delano in May 2009, according to Delano Herald Journal archives.

The charge was filed in Ramsey County, and a press release from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office said it is a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge stemming from allegations he engaged in unlawful sexual relations with a woman who was receiving religious or spiritual advice and aid from him.

“The matter was reported to archdiocesan authorities in September 2005,” according to the statement from the archdiocese. “The woman subsequently met with archdiocesan representatives and was offered counseling and therapy. She was informed, as consistent with archdiocesan policy, that she could report the contact to the police, but chose not to do so. Following an internal review, the archdiocese sent Fr. Wenthe for a psychological assessment and treatment.

“Following his discharge, Fr. Wenthe’s case was referred to the independent Clergy Review Board for evaluation.

“In late August of 2006, the Clergy Review Board recommended that the priest be allowed to return to active ministry with certain conditions and restrictions.

“Father Wenthe was appointed parochial vicar of St. Michael/St. Mary parish (Stillwater) in October 2006, and a full report was given to the pastor and the trustees of the parish.

“He was appointed pastor of the Delano Catholic Community, concurrent with another review of his status by the Clergy Review Board. Disclosures were also made to the Delano parish trustees.

“No complaints or incidents have been made over the past five years of his ministry. The archdiocese sincerely regrets any pain or suffering that the woman may have endured and continues to offer her our assistance and care,” the statement concluded.

Wenthe was ordained May 31, 2003, and prior to coming to Delano, Wenthe worked at Nativity in St. Paul, St. Michael’s in Pine Island, St. Paul’s in Zumbrota, and St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s in Stillwater, according to newspaper archives. He performed his first Sunday Mass in Delano May 21, 2009.

Dennis McGrath, the director of communications for the archdiocese, said it’s not been determined yet on the exact process to name a priest for the Delano Catholic Community.

“Rest assured, the Delano Catholic Community is going to be well taken care of,” McGrath said. “Some of our priests are already lined up to go out there this weekend for Masses. Then, the archdiocese, under the direction of the archbishop, will appoint someone, probably on an interim basis, but I don’t know that for sure. We have a whole process for selecting pastors and associate pastors, and that process will be well under-way.”

McGrath called this a “bolt out of the blue in many ways,” noting he wasn’t aware of the charge filed against Wenthe until media started calling late Thursday afternoon.

“I think people in Delano have a very high regard for him,” McGrath said. “I think he’s been a very caring priest and inspirational leader of the parish and people, understandably, like him and respect him a lot.”

“He is one of the most exceptional people I have ever met,” said parishioner Stephanie Russek. “He dug in and got involved immediately in our church and entire community. He initiated programs that helped families grow in their faith together. He helped us look beyond ourselves and our own parishes to help everyone we possibly could.”

Russek said Wenthe’s “infectious, we can do anything” attitude spread quickly throughout the community.

“There was never a challenge he did not embrace,” Russek said. “He helped so many people realize and grow in their faith and most importantly follow and trust God. His compass was God and he excited people to learn more about their faith. Marriages and families in our community are stronger today than before he came. He inspired us to be better people.”

Russek said Wenthe “made a mistake. He worked hard to change. He got a second chance and he made a huge impact with that second chance here in Delano . . . we pray that our paths will cross again.”

A Ramsey County Jail official said Thursday night Wenthe had been released from custody on bond, and said his next court appearance was set for Friday, Feb. 18. Information from this was not available as of press time. If found guilty, the maximum penalty for the charge is 15 years prison or $30,000 fine, or both.

A call to the Delano Catholic Community Friday referred media to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

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