A Message from Abbot John Klassen, O.S.B.
More than three decades ago when Saint John's Abbey first learned of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by some of our monks, emotions within the community ranged from shock, rage and bewilderment to immense pain and embarrassment. This community and I share a deep compassion and concern for those persons who were victims and are now survivors.
As a community we hold any form of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life committed to mutual respect among all persons. This commitment was central to our task as we acted quickly to develop policies and procedures to respond responsibly in a manner that included a pastoral focus.
I believe we have been faithful over the years in our determination to do all we can to help survivors of abuse to achieve healing and reconciliation. Some have suggested that we turn the page, move ahead and not look back. While we are determined to move ahead, we know that we must also continue to look back. Sinful things happened in our midst and people were profoundly hurt. It is not enough simply to acknowledge what occurred as a result of our flawed human nature, or as a reminder of our frailty and vulnerability. We will continue to address the wrongs that were done.
Life, work and prayer continue at the Abbey. As we pursue important work in many areas, I am determined that this ugly stain become a permanent part of our collective memory so that we are ever mindful of our commitment to do everything possible to assure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. We will continue to learn from our experience and use that learning for healing, renewal and reconciliation. We must continue to do all we can for survivors of abuse by Saint John's monks even as we deal with our own healing.
This section of the Abbey's website continues our commitment to honesty and transparency. I invite all visitors to these pages to join the monastic community in its continuing prayers for all survivors of sexual abuse.
+Abbot John Klassen, O.S.B.
Abbey Response to Sexual Abuse Allegations
Benedict's Rule for Monasteries Recognized Human Strength . . . and Frailty
When he wrote his Rule for Monasteries, Saint Benedict clearly presented monasteries as communities of individuals seeking conversion of life. (The phrase "conversion of life" implies a strong personal commitment among Benedictines to strive for a truly Christ-like life.)
But Saint Benedict also recognized that members of religious communities are human beings dealing with all of the human frailties of people outside the monastery. The sins within a monastery are familiar in the human condition and include pride, envy, chemical dependency and sexual impropriety. Saint Benedict was the first Benedictine monastic superior and his Rule expresses his commitment to assist his followers as they sought to rise above human frailty and achieve true conversion of life.
Over the centuries monastic superiors and communities have been guided by their founder's Rule as they continue the quest. It remains a challenging, life-long struggle. Each decade and century has brought social and cultural changes that have affected the ongoing struggle to rise above human weakness and to achieve true transformation of life.
Evolution of Psychotherapy
During much of the last half of the 20th century many religious superiors nationwide received professional advice from psychotherapists that persons guilty of sexual abuse would benefit from a period of intensive psychotherapy and be able to return to a new assignment in the workplace. Many superiors in dioceses and monastic communities accepted the diagnostic opinion of psychotherapists and assigned those who had completed therapy to new positions in ministry and education. Although well-intentioned, such assignments often proved to be mistakes.
As the 1980s came to an end, professional opinion changed. A change began to occur in the way therapists responded to sexual abuse. Suddenly there seemed to be universal agreement among psychotherapists that the risk of recidivism was too great to justify confidence in therapy as a control or a cure.
This new school of thought regarding sexual abuse was central to Saint John's Abbey's actions in response to sexual misconduct by some of its members. It also affected subsequent decisions by the U.S Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) about how to respond to credible allegations of sexual misconduct. Zero tolerance became the standard in the U.S. Bishops' 2002 Charter dealing with the protection of children and young people. The Charter called for clergy facing credible allegations of sexual abuse to be removed from any form of ministry immediately and permanently.
Despite our awareness of Saint Benedict's wisdom regarding human frailty, despite our own experience that included referring members of the community for treatment for a variety of reasons over the years, the Saint John's monastic community was shocked and saddened when accusations of improper sexual behavior by some members of this monastic community came to our attention in the late 80s and early 90s. It was indeed painful to learn that some of our brothers who had committed their lives to helping others had also harmed others. It was difficult to believe and more difficult to understand this sin in our midst. In compliance with the USCCB Charter and Norms, all monks credibly accused of sexual abuse have been removed from the ministry.
Prompt and Ongoing Response
In 1988 Abbot Jerome Theisen, O.S.B., directed the monastic community to begin work at once on initiatives to reach out in pastoral support to persons harmed in any way by any persons from Saint John's. Abbot Jerome and the community also drafted and, in 1989, implemented a Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Policy that established a zero tolerance for sexual improprieties and immediate removal from ministry of any monk facing credible allegations of abuse. The guidelines and protocols, revised and strengthened in 1992, 1993, 2002 and 2008, have been used by other religious as a model for their own policies.
Shortly after his election in 1992, Abbot Timothy Kelly, O.S.B., began to explore how the Abbey might contribute to a national discussion/analysis of sexual abuse issues. In doing so, he expressed the determination to serve victims' needs. Guided by the recommendations of a group of professionals representing a diversity of denominations and professional experience, Abbot Timothy established the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI) to foster discussion and analysis of clergy abuse issues. ISTI hosted several conferences and workshops, including one for Linkup, a national survivors' organization at which Bishop Jerome Hanus of St. Cloud apologized publicly to a group of victims (the first U.S. bishop to do so).
The work of ISTI continued at Saint John's for a time under the sponsorship of the graduate School of Theology. Though enrollment in its offerings gradually declined and the ISTI program was discontinued early in 2008, the resources developed through its work remain available at ISTI.
Since his election as Abbot in 2000, Abbot John Klassen, O.S.B., has continued the Abbey's commitment to openness and asserted his determination to assure that "no remnants of the veil of secrecy remain."
In May 2002, Abbot John issued a public apology on behalf of the Abbey, and in June of that year he announced his intention to implement the directives of the U.S. Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (published 6/2002, revised 6/2011).
Saint John's contracted with Praesidium Religious Services to develop (1) educational programs for prevention of sexual abuse, (2) a set of national standards to serve as a benchmark for the commitment to education and prevention, and for responding to allegations of sexual abuse, and (3) guidelines for the care and supervision of individual offenders in the religious community. Praesidium developed a system of accreditation for each religious organization that included documentation of the education of members and an onsite visit of each religious community.
Saint John's Abbey completed Praesidium's first onsite accreditation visit in 2008, including a thorough review of all credible charges of abuse and the response since 2002 to each allegation. In addition, the reviewers met with each monk on a Safety Plan, the monk's supervisor and members of the Abbey's independent External Review Board. In May, 2008, Saint John's Abbey was accredited by Praesidium Religious Services, documenting that the Abbey is in full compliance with Praesidium's 25 Standards of Accreditation which were adopted by CMSM in 2003 and then updated and revised in 2013..
Accreditation for Saint John’s Abbey was renewed in June 2011 and again following a site visit in 2014 and a thorough attorney-review of all abbey personal files in 2015. Saint John’s current accreditation by Praesidium Religious Services for meeting or exceeding all standards for safeguarding children and young people runs from 2015 through 2020.
Over the years all members of the monastic community have participated in several conferences, workshops and lectures dealing with issues related to healthy sexuality, celibate chastity and appropriate interpersonal boundaries. Examples include a workshop on healthy boundaries by a professional staff member of St. Luke's Institute, a treatment center in Silver Springs, Maryland, and continuing annual presentations by Abbot John to new members of the monastic community about the history of abuse at the Abbey and the monastery's ongoing work to ensure effective policies and accountability. The Abbey's external accreditation by Praesidium Religious Services requires ongoing training on appropriate boundaries in ministerial and personal relationships.
Abbot John's continuing leadership is also shown in the following sections.
External Review Board
The seven-member External Review Board (ERB), established in June 2003, continues to meet as requested by the Abbot, usually on a quarterly basis. As a confidential, consultative body, the responsibilities of the Board include providing counsel to the Abbot in the following areas:
- Affirming decisions regarding the credibility of allegations brought against a monk of Saint John's Abbey.
- Ensuring that a proper investigation is conducted in response to an allegation of sexual abuse.
- Determining the kinds of work and other activities that are suitable for a monk accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
- Evaluating the appropriateness of the Abbey's response to a person who survived sexual abuse as a minor.
- Reviewing educational programs within the Abbey dealing with healthy sexuality and appropriate boundaries.
- Reviewing the Abbey's Policy on Sexual Abuse of a Minor.
- Reviewing Safety Plans of monks who have faced credible allegations of abuse of a minor and making recommendations to the Abbot for modifications the Board considers necessary.
Abbey policy provides that there are to be seven members of the Board, and stipulates that one member be selected from the monastic community and that one member have particular expertise in the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors. In addition, the Abbey has consistently had a survivor of sexual abuse as a member of the board. After consultation with the members of the ERB and others whom the Abbot chooses, the Abbot, with the consent of the Senior Council, appoints the members of the Review Board.
Screening, Training Candidates for Monastic Life
During the 1980s Saint John's Abbey took steps to strengthen policies and practices for accepting and training applicants for the monastic life. More recently it has made a commitment to honor or exceed the Accreditation Standards of Praesidium which includes a rigorous review of all candidates considering the monastic life.
The first standard requires a rigid program of screening for new candidates for monastic life. Following are the standard’s specific requirements:
- Candidates are screened for a history of sexually abusing minors or violating the boundaries of minors.
- Each candidate must undergo a criminal background check.
- Each candidate must have a minimum of three documented personal references (including at least one from a family member) and two professional references for a total of five references.
- Each candidate must have a face-to-face interview with more than one representative of the Abbey.
- Each candidate must have a psychological evaluation conducted by a licensed psychologist.
- Each candidate must undergo a psycho-sexual history conducted by either a licensed psychologist or a licensed mental health professional with skills in conducting psycho-sexual histories and in assessing psycho-sexual health in preparation for a life of celibate chastity.
- A candidate with an established allegation of sexually abusing a minor in his past or who has acquired/intentionally viewed child pornography will not be permitted to continue. By education, training or experience, the Vocation Director and the Formation Director must develop the skills needed to identify behaviors in candidates who may be at higher risk to sexually abuse a minor.
Saint John's also strengthened training of candidates for the priesthood in Saint John's seminary. The novitiate program for first-year monks already included classes on celibate chastity, but the Abbey introduced an additional semester course on celibate chastity for Junior monks in the spring of 1993. The seminary offered its first full course on celibate chastity in January 1993. Both programs explored a variety of issues dealing with celibate sexuality and healthy boundaries in relationships.
Support for Survivors
Saint John's Abbey has reached out proactively to survivors during the last 20 years to begin or contribute to the process of healing and the possibility of reconciliation. The Abbey has also agreed to several financial settlements with survivors. Often financial compensation to survivors has included continuing support for the therapy that is an important part of the healing process.
Safety Plans for Those Credibly Charged
In 2003, the Abbey contracted with Project Pathfinder in Saint Paul, an organization skilled in assessing an individual's risk of re-offending. Assessments done by Project Pathfinder led to the development of individual Safety Plans for each monk who has sexually abused a minor. ("Safety Plan" is the title used by Praesidium in its Accreditation Standards for such agreements. As one of several monastic communities pledged to conform to the Praesidium Standards, Saint John’s Abbey has adopted the label “Safety Plan” for its use.)
The plans include professional counseling, supervision and regular meetings with a supervisor. Individual plans are reviewed annually by external professionals and the independent External Review Board.
The voluntary Safety Plans are a requirement for monks who have offended if they choose to remain members of the monastic community.
John Jay Report Explores Abuse Causes
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice report issued in May 2011, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, revealed a disturbing, broad cultural phenomenon of sexual abuse by professionals, including doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and members of the Catholic and other denominations of clergy. The report described a pattern - across all professions - of sexual abuse of adolescents that began in the 1950s, increased through the 1960s and 1970s and then declined sharply after the mid-1980s.
Accusations of sexual abuse by monks of Saint John's Abbey reflected the pattern reported in the John Jay findings. Although some accusations were proven to be without basis, rigorous investigations deemed that a number of allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct* against members of the Abbey were credible. All credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors were for behavior before the mid-1980s.
Of monks credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct, many have died, or left the Abbey. All who remain at the Abbey follow Safety Plans monitored by in-house superiors, an external professional, and the External Review Board.
From 1989, the year the Abbey established the first sexual abuse policy, until the present, no credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors have been made against members of the Saint John's monastic community. The last sexual abuse of a minor for which an allegation has been made against a member of Saint John's Abbey occurred in 1986.
The Abbey has also had to defend and support some monks who have faced false and malicious allegations of sexual abuse and who must now live with this grossly unfair stigma.
The principal investigator for the John Jay Report stated that "the increased frequency of abuse in the 1960s and 1970s was consistent with patterns of increased deviance of society during that time," and went on to state that "social influences intersected with vulnerabilities of individual priests whose preparation for a life of celibacy was inadequate at the time."
The investigator noted that implementation nationwide of various plans in the 1990s to respond to victims and the harms of sexual abuse was not consistent or thorough at times but, nonetheless, said "the decrease in incidence of sexual abuse cases by clergy was more rapid than the overall societal patterns."
Invitation to Survivors
Survivors of any form of sexual abuse or misconduct by a member of the Saint John’s monastic community or an employee of The Order of Saint Benedict, Inc., are invited and urged to come forward to begin a process of healing. Survivors may contact Abbot John Klassen at Saint John’s Abbey or an authorized Survivor Advocate.
The Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis, MN, which has been engaged by Saint John's Abbey to offer assistance to anyone who may have experienced abuse by a monk of the Abbey. Contact Mr. Gary Schoener. Telephone (612) 870-0565.
The Victim Assistance Coordinator for the St. Cloud Diocese is Roxann Storms, MSW, LGSW, FT. Telephone (320) 248-1563.
Survivor Advocates are available nationwide and may be located by contacting area social service offices or, in most areas, diocesan officials.
Because survivors of abuse have a variety of options available to present allegations, Saint John's Abbey will not take action on anonymous or third-party reports of abuse.
Under the leadership of three abbots (Jerome Theisen, Timothy Kelly and John Klassen), Saint John's Abbey has sought to honor its commitment to respond responsibly and pastorally to credible allegations of misconduct. For more than 20 years the Abbey has reached out to survivors and established internal policies and procedures to diminish the chances of abuse happening again. Some mistakes have occurred along the way and the Abbey has acknowledged them, learned from them and used the experience to strengthen its continuing response.
Although the Abbey continues to receive occasional allegations of abuse that occurred 40 to 60 years ago, there have been no reports of abuse that occurred after 1986.
Saint John's Abbey's response will be an ongoing component of the community's culture as it continues to expand its work in a variety of important apostolates. In the public manner of this website the Abbey once again renews its determination to remain vigilant, with a continuing overriding concern for survivors of sexual abuse.