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Minn. Archdiocese Doesn't Enter Plea Over Handling Of Abusive Priest

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota archdiocese and prosecutors both made conciliatory statements Thursday after an initial hearing on criminal charges against the church over its handling of an abusive priest, and the judge said she understood the two were engaged in talks.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis didn't enter a plea or send any leaders to appear at the brief hearing. Ramsey County Chief Judge Teresa Warner told Assistant County Attorney Tom Ring and archdiocese defense attorney Joe Dixon that she understood that discussions or negotiations were continuing, but gave no details. She scheduled the next court date for Nov. 30.

The archdiocese faces six gross misdemeanor counts of child endangerment for allegedly turning a blind eye to repeated misconduct by Curtis Wehmeyer, a now-imprisoned former priest at Church of the Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, who was convicted of molesting two boys in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors say top church officials failed to respond to "numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct" by Wehmeyer, dating back to when he entered seminary in 1997 until he was defrocked in March.

Both Dixon and Ring declined to comment after the hearing.

But County Attorney John Choi issued a statement saying the archdiocese "has begun to demonstrate a spirit of reform" since the charges were filed. He said prosecutors would continue to press the case.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda, for his part, said in a separate statement that he's grateful for the opportunities the archdiocese has had to work with the county attorney's office toward the goal of making sure children are safe in their communities, schools and parishes.

Each of the six criminal counts filed in June carries a maximum fine of $3,000. Prosecutors also filed a civil petition then that asks a court to order the archdiocese to stop failing to protect children. While the two matters are technically separate cases, the court is handling them together.

At a separate hearing Thursday in federal bankruptcy court in Minneapolis, a judge granted the archdiocese an extension to file its reorganization plan from Nov. 30 to May 31. The archdiocese had cited the large number of claims filed against it for sexual abuse by clergy as a factor.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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