The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ordered a new trial for a priest accused of having sexual contact with a female parishioner he was counseling.
Christopher Wenthe was working at Nativity Catholic Church in St. Paul 2003 when the woman sought spiritual counseling. A jury found him guilty last year of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
But the appeals court says Wenthe's conviction was unconstitutional because prosecutors obtained it "based on evidence that was excessively entangled in matters of religion." It says that evidence improperly shaped the verdict by giving the jury religious instead of secular standards for judging the priest's conduct.
Wenthe testified during his trial that he had a sexual relationship with the woman but denied he was providing spiritual aid when the sex occurred.