Abbey Information, Contact, and Official Statements
Update from Abbot John Klassen, OSB
Recent news stories about clergy misconduct, and especially those involving monks from Saint John's Abbey, have prompted questions and concerns from many of the people who care most deeply about Saint John's Abbey, Saint John's Prep and Saint John's University. They have shared with me their disappointment and frustration. In particular, many have questioned whether our responses to allegations of abuse by members of our community have fallen short of what is expected of the Abbey. One alumnus put it directly in a recent letter: "I am asking where is the public voice of Saint John's as it leads with Benedictine, Christian values...?"
That's a fair question and one that has prompted some personal reflections that I want to share.
The cases of sexual abuse involving children have been heartbreaking. I grieve for the victims of abuse and their families. They have been betrayed by the clergy they trusted. The pain they have had to endure is unimaginable.
Since the first claims of abuse surfaced nearly three decades ago, we have worked hard to create processes in which allegations of misconduct are reviewed thoroughly and with respect for those who may have been harmed. The External Review Board – a panel that includes a victim, those who work with victims, and other experts – meets on a regular basis to evaluate claims of potential abuse and to review the safety plans for members of the monastery who likely have offended against minors.
We have taken other steps, including a voluntary release of the names of monks who likely have offended against minors, had numerous frank conversations with victims, their representatives, and the news media.
Still, every time an allegation or controversy surfaces in a news story, I know we are bound to disappoint some of our friends who believe we respond too timidly and others who see our responses as incomplete and even disingenuous.
All of this is front of mind these days as the news media regurgitate two-decade-old claims against Fr. Timothy Backous. Many of you, like me, have known and respected Fr. Timo for years. I have worked side-by-side with him, and observed his many, many interactions with children and young people. When the media contacted us, I reviewed the reports from nearly 25 years ago when the issue first was raised. The allegations were not substantiated and we found no cause to place any restrictions on Father Tim.
Unfortunately and unfairly, the news media published the allegations with no corroborating witnesses, evidence or documentation. News stories accepted the untrue claim that restrictions were placed on Fr. Backous. All of this has come at a great personal cost to Fr. Backous. We will continue to do all we can to clear his name and help him regain his reputation.
These news stories about Fr. Timo also underscore some of the realities we confront with almost every issue that comes forward.
First, we rarely have more than a couple of hours between the time we first are called for a comment by the news media and the deadline reporters impose on us. In these few hours, we must review old records or, in some cases, make judgments about claims that are presented for the first time and that are coming from reporters, not those directly involved. Whenever an allegation comes forward, we are committed to pursuing the truth while being respectful of the rights and the reputations of those against whom these allegations have been lodged.
On some occasions, we simply don't have all the facts at hand. We do our best, but almost all of the media stories in recent years have dealt with issues that are decades old. Often, we are confronted with questions from reporters who have spent days or even weeks collecting information from those who believe they have been harmed, their attorneys, and others. We are questioned – and given little time to respond – only after a narrative has already been created.
We have to walk a very fine line in these stories. It is our commitment to be respectful of those who believe they have been victims of abuse and, at the same time, to protect the legal rights of those who may be wrongly accused. There are times when we wish we could be even more proactive in laying out what we know to be the facts of a case, but we are constrained by legal realities – those that affect possible victims and members of Saint John's Abbey.
There are occasions when we have been able to refute potential media stories. In one instance, for example, we showed the reporter that a priest alleged to have abused a person wasn't even in the same state as the alleged victim at the time the incident was supposed to have occurred. Had we not been able to uncover this kind of evidence in the short time available, the reputation of an innocent person would have been irreparably damaged.
There are many instances in which the media have uncovered stories from around the country that were important to report. But there also are other cases – including some involving members of Saint John's – where innocence has given way to the rush to publish a "breaking story."
Second, we are often chasing rumors. Spurious and malicious claims pop up on websites or in email chains. We have pursued legal remedies to get information removed and have been successful, but too often by the time we can provide the facts to the people communicating through these sites or to the internet companies that host the sites, the damage has been done. And, quite frankly, the truth simply doesn't matter to some people.
Through all of this, our commitment is to do all we can to be transparent in confronting credible allegations and accepting responsibility when warranted. We also will be respectful of those who are innocent, but are caught up in an environment in which too often allegations – even without substantiation – are news. Those who have been faithful to their vows and their values should not have to live under clouds of doubt because of the actions of others.
I will do my best to keep you posted on these matters as they unfold.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB June 2014
Response to Lawsuit – May 19, 2014
Saint John’s Abbey was made aware of these allegations against Fr. Richard Eckroth late last week. Sorting out the truth of allegations against Fr. Eckroth is complicated by his advanced dementia. He has suffered from dementia for well over a decade, and the disease has taken an increasingly serious toll on his health and cognitive abilities. Incidents involving Eckroth are alleged to have occurred more than forty years ago. While there have been credible claims of inappropriate behavior by Eckroth, there has also been conflicting testimony regarding allegations against him. For many years, he has lived under close monitoring, both because of his disease and as a result of restrictions imposed on him. We will cooperate to seek the truth as we have in the past when allegations have been presented against members of the monastic community.
Over ten years ago Saint John’s Abbey made public the names of the five monks named today. They were also included in the list of names we released this past December. Saint John’s has complied with all court orders it has received to produce documents.
As a community, Saint John’s holds any form of sexual abuse to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life committed to mutual respect among all persons. Thus, over the past decade, we have developed policies and procedures to respond responsibly and effectively to investigate allegations of abuse, to hold accountable those who have abused, to keep the community safe and to reach out to victims with sincere offers of pastoral counseling. In addition, all members of our community against whom established allegations have been made are covered by safety plans, and we prominently display sexual abuse information on our website. Saint John’s continues to be dedicated to working with survivors of abuse. We are committed to doing everything possible to assure that the mistakes of our past are not repeated.
Official Statement of December 9, 2013 : Release of Names of Monks Who Likely Have Offended Against Minors
Saint John’s Abbey voluntarily is releasing the names of current and former monks who likely have offended against minors. Most of the names previously have been made public. The list includes 18 names: nine monks who are living at Saint John's Abbey under supervised safety plans, seven monks who are deceased and two men who have been dispensed from their religious vows and no longer are connected to the Abbey.
The claims against each of those named were reviewed either by the Abbey’s External Review Board or by the Abbot himself. In each case, it was determined that there was sufficient evidence to include the person on the list. In some cases, however, all the facts could not be completely substantiated. Claims against some of those named on the list, for example, were not brought to the Abbey’s attention for decades after the accused monk’s death. It is in several of these cases where the Abbot made the determination to include the name of the monk on the list despite the lack of corroborating evidence.
The External Review Board was created in 2003. The seven-member panel includes those who have expertise in the treatment of sexual abuse of minors, judges, attorneys and current and former members of law enforcement. In addition, the Board consistently has included a survivor of sexual abuse. The Board is charged with evaluating allegations of sexual abuse against members of the Abbey and making recommendations for action to the Abbot, as well as conducting annual reviews of individual monks’ safety plans.
“This list reflects our best efforts to identify those who likely have offended against minors,” said Brother Aelred Senna, OSB, spokesperson for the Abbey. “That task often is complicated by the passage of time, the deaths of some of those involved and sometimes incomplete accounts of the past. Even so, we are including all 18 names to provide as complete of a list as we can to acknowledge the pain suffered by victims. This list underscores our commitment to being transparent in our policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse.
"Our commitment is reflected in the policies and procedures implemented over the past decade, particularly the External Review Board. This Board gives victims the assurance that allegations of abuse against minors will be investigated objectively, sensitively and thoroughly," said Brother Aelred.
† = deceased
* = no longer a monk of Saint John’s
For more information on Saint John’s Abbey’s policies and procedures regarding response to sexual abuse, see the Safe Environment section of this web site.
Saint John's Abbey Response to Lawsuit Filed November 19, 2013
We are saddened to hear of allegations of misconduct by a former member of our monastic community who left Saint John's in 2011. We have not had the opportunity to review the lawsuit and cannot comment on the specifics of the case.
As a community, Saint John's holds any form of sexual abuse to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life committed to mutual respect among all persons. Thus, over the past decade, we have developed policies and procedures to respond responsibly in a manner that includes a pastoral focus.
In addition, all members of our community against whom established allegations have been made are covered by restrictive safety plans, and we prominently display sexual abuse information on our website. Saint John's continues to be decticated to working with survivors of abuse. We are committed to doing everything possible to assure that the mistakes of our past are not repeated. Information on safety plans and Saint John's commitment tot he safety of young people can be found at http://www.saintjohnsabbey.org/info/abbey-response-sexual-abuse-allegations/.