Priest charged with 4th degree CSC

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday afternoon it has charged the Rev. Mark Andrew Huberty with criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree. The priest, head pastor of Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic in Maplewood, is accused of having a sexual relationship with an adult woman he had been counseling.

The Twin Cities Archdiocese says Huberty has denied the allegations.

Regular meetings

A woman identified in the complaint only as “a known adult female” allegedly approached the 43-year-old Huberty in 2008. The woman reportedly sought him out for spiritual counseling, as she “was struggling with her faith in dealing with the death of a family member.”

The complaint does not cite any contact between Huberty and the woman over the next few years.

In 2012, the complaint continues, “on (Huberty’s) advice and with his assistance,” the woman enrolled in the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechitical Institute in St. Paul.

The institute, according to its website, provides resources for adults in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to learn more about Catholicism and deepen their faith.

The woman reportedly attended weekly classes at the institute until last March, meeting regularly with Huberty and “seeking his opinions, advice and clarification of issues concerning Catholic doctrine and practice.” The two exchanged emails, texts, talked on the phone and met in person.

On Jan. 7, while the woman was still attending institute classes, Huberty reportedly asked her “if she would be his friend.” The victim alleges that she agreed, but while leaving her home that day Huberty began fondling her.

The woman told police she met with Huberty in her home, at the church and in his car, at which times she says the two had sexual contact.

According to the complaint, the woman says she questioned Huberty about the activity, and he responded that it was a venial sin, not a mortal sin.

‘Emotionally dependent’

The pair continued to meet in person from January through April, according to the complaint, but in early April Huberty canceled a trip he and the woman had planned. She said she realized he was ending the relationship.

The woman had by now begun a pattern of calling, texting and emailing Huberty several times a day, and, she told police, had become emotionally dependent on him.

She called Huberty on the phone and, in a recorded conversation, asked him how she could stay at Presentation and attend Mass. According to the complaint, “(Huberty) revealed that other women friends seemed to have no problem remaining active in the church when their relationship with him ended. He advised the Victim, just as he said he advised others in the confessional, that there was no need to tell her husband all the details of their relationship. He admonished her to think about how it would negatively affect (him) if she reported him to authorities.”

The woman went to the Maplewood Police Department May 1 to file a report detailing the relationship.

Archdiocese issues statement

On Sept. 22, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that a woman had accused Huberty of inappropriate touching, adding, “Fr. Huberty denies the allegations.”

The archdiocese’ statement, issued by media and public relations manager Jim Accurso, added that the allegation was reported to police and that it is undertaking its own investigation into the priest. “The Archdiocese is cooperating fully with all civil authorities.”

The archdiocese appointed an administrator to perform the administrative duties Huberty has at Presentation, as well as providing priests to celebrate Masses and attend to other spiritual needs in the parish.

The archdiocese said Presentation parishioners were informed of the situation at Masses Sept. 21-22.

Law at issue

Though the bulk of the offenses listed in Minnesota State Statute 609.345, “Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Fourth Degree” involve forcible or coercive conduct and conduct against those considered vulnerable such as teens or children, several portions address cases in which an adult is willingly in a relationship with someone in a position of legal or moral authority.

These include situations involving psychotherapists and patients, either during a counseling session or outside it if a counseling relationship exists or anyone employed as a staffer, contractor or volunteer at a correctional facility or agency who has sexual contact with inmates or those they supervise.

The portions that include clergy ban sexual conduct if:

  • “the actor (perpetrator) is or purports to be a member of the clergy, the complainant is not married to the actor, and:
  • the sexual contact occurred during the course of a meeting in which the complainant sought or received religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort from the actor in private; or
  • the sexual contact occurred during a period of time in which the complainant was meeting on an ongoing basis with the actor to seek or receive religious or spiritual advice, aid or comfort in private. Consent by the complainant is not a defense.”

Charges delayed for prior case

In media reports, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman indicated he would wait until the Minnesota Supreme Court decided on an appeal in another case involving a priest and an adult who apparently consented to sexual contact before deciding whether to charge Huberty.

The Rev. Christopher Wenthe was convicted in 2011 of third-degree criminal sexual conduct after a woman alleged they had a relationship for over a year. His lawyer, Peter Engh, who is also defending Huberty, argued in appeal that the state statute violates the U.S. Constitution in that it violates the establishment of religion clause.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recommended a new trial for Wenthe, but the Minnesota Supreme Court denied the appeal.

However, the case will be revisited at the Court of Appeals level, addressing issues that reportedly include whether Wenthe was aware he was breaking the law.

He has already served several months in the Ramsey County Workhouse; he was originally sentenced to more than four years.

At the parish since 2007

Huberty is currently free without bail, on the conditions that he have no contact with the victim or her family, surrender his passport, make his court appearances and remain law-abiding. The prosecutor’s office has tacked on a further prohibition: that he be prohibited from any church activities that involve him counseling parishioners.

He has been on leave from his post as head pastor of the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary since mid-September, when Maplewood police forwarded their investigation to Ramsey County Attorney John Choi for possible charges.

Choi referred the matter to Hennepin County, citing a conflict of interest; he and Huberty attended St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights at the same time.

According to Presentation’s website, Huberty began serving as pastor at Presentation in July 2007.

Previously, he served at St. Timothy in Maple Lake, Minn., for six years, and parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony for five years.

After graduating from St. Thomas Academy, he began studying business administration at Washington University in St. Louis, but transferred to the University of St. Thomas to pursue courses that would contribute to his vocation in the priesthood.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy there while also enrolled in the St. John Vianney Seminary.

After four more years at the St. Paul Seminary he received a master of divinity and a master’s degree in theology and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1996.

Huberty also serves as a teaching parish supervisor for the St. Paul Seminary and a mentor for newly ordained priests.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at review@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7811.
 

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