MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn.-A San Diego priest has been charged with having sex with a woman he was spiritually advising.
Jacob A. Bertrand, 34, was charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct Friday in Dakota County District Court.
The offense allegedly took place in 2010 while Bertrand was visiting the woman's family in Mendota Heights.
Under Minnesota law, a member of the clergy who has sex with a person they're not married to "during the course of a meeting in which the complainant sought or received religious spiritual advice" is guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, even if the sex is consensual.
According to the criminal complaint, Bertrand met the woman in Rome in 2009, when he was 27 and she was in her early 20s. Both were students studying spirituality at a university there.
The woman asked Bertrand, then a deacon, to be her spiritual guide, the complaint said. Shortly thereafter, Bertrand allegedly talked about his sexual experiences. The woman shared her journals with him, including an entry that said she hoped she would find her husband in Rome. Bertrand told her he thought he was that man, and she believed him, the complaint said.
He allegedly later said "the Lord" had sent him a vision of her straddling him naked.
The two returned to the United States together in 2010. They visited San Diego, where Bertrand was ordained and now resides. They kissed on multiple occasions during the trip, the complaint said.
Later that year, they traveled to Minnesota and stayed with the woman's family in Mendota Heights. During the visit, Bertrand ministered to the family, offered the "Sacrifice of the Mass" in their living room and heard the family's confessions.
The two then traveled to Wisconsin, to a cabin belonging to the woman's grandmother, and had sex. They returned to her family's home and again had sex in the basement during what the complaint described as a "private Mass," where Bertrand wore his stole and had candles burning.
The woman straddled Bertrand while he performed the Sacrifice of the Mass, and afterward, the complaint said, Bertrand told her they had fulfilled the "second holiest sacrifice next to Jesus and Mary on Calvary" and said the act was so "mystical" they shouldn't tell anyone.
The complaint does not detail any other in-person contact between the two. Bertrand returned to California and was assigned to the San Diego Diocese.
The woman, who is now 30, twice wrote to that diocese, in 2012 and 2014, telling them what allegedly happened. The complaint said the diocese reassigned Bertrand to another church.
Bertrand, who lives in San Diego, was charged by summons and was not in custody in Minnesota on Friday.
The law can be tricky to apply, as prosecutors not only have to prove sex took place but that it occurred while the priest was providing spiritual guidance.
In 2014, for example, a Maplewood priest was acquitted by a Ramsey County jury of a similar charge; the priest's defense successfully argued that he was not providing guidance when the relationship became intimate.
In 2011, the Rev. Christopher Wenthe was convicted for having sex with a 21-year-old penitent at Nativity of Our Lord parish in St. Paul under the same statute. But his conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled it was unconstitutional because it was "based on evidence that was excessively entangled in matters of religion."
The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, reversed the appeals court decision.
Other professionals, including psychotherapists, also are prohibited by law from having sexual relationships with their clients. Massage therapists used to be prohibited as well but were removed as a category after a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.
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