By Sarah Barchus
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered that the priest accused of having sexual relations with a female parishioner be given a new trial, KARE 11 reported.
Christopher Wenthe, formerly of Nativity of Our Lord parish in St. Paul, was convicted in November 2011 for criminal sexual conduct involving a 21-year-old woman that he was counseling, the Pioneer Press reported.
Wenthe was released early from his one-year sentence in the Ramsey country workhouse for good behavior and then appealed his conviction, the Pioneer Press reported.
The appeals court overturned the conviction, saying it was unconstitutional because it was "based on evidence that was excessively entangled in matters of religion," KARE 11 reported. The case was sent back to the Ramsey County District Court for a new trial, the Pioneer Press reported.
Wenthe, 48, was counseling the woman in her fight against eating disorders and past sexual abuse when they became sexually involved, the Pioneer Press reported.
The state jury found the sexual relations to be criminal according to a clergy-sex statute because they were done "during the course of a meeting in which the (victim) sought or received religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort from the (clergy member) in private," the Pioneer Press reported.
Wenthe denied that having sex while he offered spiritual guidance, although he acknowledged the relationship, KARE 11 reported.
The appeals court ruled that the statute didn't violate the establishment clause, which says the government cannot make a law that respects the establishment of a religion, the Pioneer Press reported.
However, the ruling was overturned because the trial invited the jury to make judgments based on Roman Catholic doctrine instead of state law, the Pioneer Press reported.