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Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Religion Not a Criminal Defense

The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned a decision by the Appeals Court that would have granted a new trial for a St. Paul Catholic Priest who was convicted of criminal sexual conduct two years ago.

The former Catholic Priest admitted to the court that he had had sex with an adult woman who attended the church. His attorneys argued that the relationship was consensual and had nothing to do with his role as a religious counselor. The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial. They said there was an entanglement of religious doctrine protected under the First Amendment and the law.

However, the state submitted an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court and they struck down the ruling by the Appeals Court, upholding the original conviction.

The priest was prosecuted by a Ramsey County attorney and he was pleased that the high court sided with the prosecution, which gives prosecutors throughout Minnesota the ability to pursue similar sex crime cases that have been filed against clergy no matter the religion.

Attorneys for the priest say that they may submit an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to once again have the conviction overturned.

The woman in the case said that she had confided in the priest about her struggles with previous sexual abuse and an eating disorder. He agreed to be her confessor. However, she said that the priest exploited her trust in him and her vulnerability. However, the priest said that the relationship was mutual.

When the Court of Appeals had overturned the conviction and sent the case back to district court, they stated that the original conviction was based on evidence that was entangled in religious matters.

Currently, there is a clergy sexual conduct statute in place and its primary effect is to protect individuals that he Legislature feels to be vulnerable. It covers only clergy who choose to use their position as an authoritative religious member to enter into sexual relationships with people deemed vulnerable. The woman in the case was determined to be a vulnerable person.

There is not going to be a new trial on whether or not the clergy sex statute is constitutional. However, there is a challenge as to whether the trial judge prevented the priest from presenting a defense by limiting the evidence within the sexual history of the victim. Expert testimony was also denied.

The Supreme Court carefully considered this case against another one of its previous rulings in which a priest was convicted for having sex with a woman he was counseling. The Supreme Court threw out that conviction because they stated that the prosecutors relied too heavily on evidence regarding religious doctrine. That priest was retired and once again convicted in 2008.

This current case may have an impact on another alleged incident of a priest having a sexual relationship with someone he was counseling. It was a Maplewood police detective who wrote that nearly 400 emails between the priest and the parishioner led her to believe that a sexual relationship did occur. The case was then referred to the Hennepin County attorney. The attorney said that the recent decision of the Supreme Court will determine the course that is taken if the office decides to charge the priest with a crime.

Please contact our attorney for the most up to date information regarding the current laws. This article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

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