Safe Environment

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.

 

 

Statement to clarify misstatements made during Anderson news conference, 9-18-14


After reviewing the video of Jeff Anderson's 9/18/2014 news conference and receiving calls from reporters who had been confused by this conference, Saint John's Abbey is providing the following clarifications:

Mr. Jeff Anderson, in his news conference today, misstates several critical facts. At best, he is careless in his speech, confusing people and misattributing statements.
Mr. Anderson misattributes a quote to Father Allen Tarlton, claiming he says in a deposition, "I'm free to go wherever I need to go when I want to go." This statement was made, in a video, by Fr. James Thoennes of the Diocese of Saint Cloud and has nothing to do with Fr. Tarlton or Saint John's. Father Tarlton was removed from his duties more than two decades ago. He lives in a restricted environment, under close supervision and has no unsupervised contact with the students of Saint John's Prep
or Saint John's University. Mr. Anderson's statement is false and has caused confusion for many.

As noted above, Father Thoennes is a priest of the Diocese of Saint Cloud. Father Thoennes is not a member of Saint John's Abbey and never has been. We do not have first-hand knowledge of the situation regarding Father Thoennes, nor do we have any comment about it.

Saint John's Abbey has complied with legal and ethical obligations to survivors and their families. The Abbey has made full disclosure of the names of all monks against whom credible allegations have been made. These disclosures include public statements to the media and to parishes in which the accused monks had served. On two occasions, the Abbey released comprehensive lists. In 2011, the names of 18 monks against whom "credible allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation or misconduct (were) brought..." In 2013, a second list of monks "who likely have offended against minors" was released voluntarily to the public.

 

Response to Lawsuits Filed September 18, 2014

 

Saint John’s Abbey disputes the claims presented in the three lawsuits announced today. One lawsuit is an attempt to create new claims from incidents that the Abbey resolved with claimants a dozen or more years ago.  The other lawsuits echo doubtful allegations dating back to the 1970s.  The Abbey has not had any opportunity to investigate or even confer with these new claimants.

It is especially dismaying that today’s news conference was promoted with the claim that these incidents are evidence of a “clear and present danger.” That claim is absurd and represents fear-mongering at its worst. One of the priests involved has been deceased since 2004; the second suffers from severe dementia and is confined to the Abbey’s supervised nursing care facility.

The Abbey has been conscientious and transparent in voluntarily disclosing the names of monks who may have offended, including previous disclosure of the names of the two priests cited in today’s lawsuits. The Abbey has been diligent and proactive in assuring that those against whom there are credible allegations are placed under strictly reviewed safety plans that prevent further misconduct. Since allegations of inappropriate actions by some of our monks were first raised, the Abbey has taken specific actions to prevent additional incidents.  Jeff Anderson is well aware of the Abbey’s efforts and that they have been effective. There is no substantiated incident of abuse of a minor by a member of Saint John’s Abbey in more than two decades. 

The Abbey continues to deal forthrightly with allegations of abuse of minors. With compassion for victims and a real commitment to right wrongs, we have striven to create safe environments for the entire Saint John’s community, especially our schools, and for the parishes in which members of the Abbey serve.

 

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.

Saint John’s Abbey is Looking to the Future

By Jim Frey

 

The revelations of abuse against minors are again challenging the faith of many Catholics. Some react with silence, shamed by the disclosures. Others lash out with anger against those who reveal transgressions that have been committed.

We Catholics have a responsibility to do more. Those of us who continue to find meaning in our faith and who believe that the Catholic Church should be a vital and trusted force for good in our society have a larger obligation. Certainly, we need to acknowledge the wrong that was done, support justice for the survivors and accept the sanctions that are imposed fairly on our church and on those who have failed in their responsibilities.

We can and should go beyond those immediate reactions, though. Our faith gives all members special standing to be advocates within the church. We speak of the body of the church, the communion of all the faithful, as an expression of our belief that we the faithful are the church and the church is us. We are united, a single being. The Catholic Catechism tells us, “All members are linked to one another, especially to those who are suffering, to the poor and persecuted.”

Today we must be linked as never before. It is up to us to advocate publicly and within the Church for responsible, aggressive actions to end forever all abuse and to create a new culture of accountability and transparency.

It’s understandable that virtually all of the focus of the news media, the legal system, politicians and others has been on the past. This isn’t a plea to diminish that attention or to minimize the harm done to survivors. Instead, it is a call to affirm responses to the crisis that are proactive and effective. In highlighting these actions – in our public comments and in support for church leaders doing the right thing – perhaps we can inspire others to act boldly.

I would point specifically to proactive and effective response by Saint John’s Abbey. As a graduate of Saint John’s University and a former member and chair of the university’s governing board, I am especially proud of the Abbey’s forward-looking actions.  

There are facts that deserve attention:

  • Saint John’s Abbey created an External Review Board in 2003 to review and examine the formal investigative reports from allegations of misconduct. The board provides a forum for allegations of misconduct to be reviewed thoroughly with respect for those who may have been harmed. The board includes a victim, those who work with victims and others who are experts in the field. The structure and functioning of the board meet the highest standards of integrity and public trust.
  • The External Review Board meets on a regular basis to review the safety plans imposed on members of the monastery who likely have offended against minors. The Safety Plans don’t insulate monks from legal action. The Abbey fully cooperates with legal authorities. Safety plans provide a safeguard that goes beyond legal action. Safety plans remove these monks from situations of uncontrolled contact with minors or other vulnerable people.
  • Saint John’s has enhanced the screening of those wishing to enter the monastery. Intense assessments are part of a more rigorous process of identifying appropriate candidates. Education – including what it means to live a good, chaste and celibate life – continues during and after monastic formation. For example, the entire monastic community just completed a regularly-scheduled workshop updating their awareness of boundary issues and warning signals.

 

These and other actions by Saint John’s Abbey have been effective. There is no substantiated incident of abuse of a minor by a member of Saint John’s Abbey in more than two decades. While the Abbey continues to deal forthrightly with any allegation of abuse of a minor, all the alleged incidents occurred well in the past.

All of this is worth noting not in order to congratulate or exonerate the Abbey. It goes without saying that protecting our children must always be the first priority. The Catholic Church failed in that obligation, and there is no excuse for the harm done to children and families.

Rather, it is to say that a dynamic Catholic Church is important to all. It sustains the spiritual life of the faithful and it brings hope to the “suffering, to the poor and persecuted.” It is up to us, the communion of the faithful, to acknowledge the failures of some while actively and publicly holding everyone to higher standards.

Saint John’s Abbey offers a good starting point for what we should expect of the entire church. The Abbey hasn’t been perfect, but throughout its history, even when it failed on specific issues or occasions, it continued to be a powerful force for good in most areas. Today, it also is a model for restoring confidence in an institution that very much is needed in today’s world.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim Frey is president and CEO of the Frey Foundation of Minnesota and a 1978 graduate of Saint John’s University. Frey served on the SJU Board of Regents (now known as the Board of Trustees) from 2001-10 and was chair of the board from 2007-10.

A slightly abbreviated version of the above piece was published in the Saint Cloud Times, March 29, 2014. 

Release of Names of Current and Former Monks Likely to Have Offended Against Minors – December 9, 2013

 

Official Statement of December 9, 2013

 

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.

 

Bik, Michael

Eckroth, Richard

Gillespie, Thomas

Maiers, Brennan

McDonald, Finian

Moorse, Dunstan

Phillips, James

Schulte, Francisco

Tarlton, Allen

Bennett, Andre†

Blumeyer, Robert†

Dahlheimer, Cosmas†

Hoefgen, Francis*

Hohmann, Othmar†

Keller, Dominic†

Kelly, John*

Wendt, Pirmin†

Wollmering, Bruce†

 

† = deceased
* = no longer a monk of Saint John’s

 

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/safe-environment.

 

 

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 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 (see below).

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 have been adopted by CMSM. Accreditation was recently renewed following a three-day site visit in June 2011.

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.

Questions Some Have Asked

1. What has the Abbey done to improve screening/preparation of candidates for admission to the monastic community?

In its accreditation by Praesidium, Saint John’s Abbey has agreed to meet or exceed Praesidium’s 25 standards. 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.

 

2. Why are persons charged with sexual misconduct allowed to continue to live on a college campus?

When men enter a Benedictine monastery they take vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. Briefly stated, they promise to be obedient to their abbot, to remain a member for life of the monastery entered and to constantly pursue a Christ-like positive transformation of life - even if it means beginning again and again. Conversely, Benedictine communities have always perceived the vows taken as mutual promises of the person making promises and the monastic community. In other words, the community also promises that so long as a monk remains a member, the monastic community will support him in his quest for conversion of life. This pledge remains true even if - and perhaps especially if - a monk's human frailty has become an obstacle in his lifelong conversion process.

This lifelong commitment remains a challenge for individual monks and for the monastic community. On the one hand, it is painfully difficult for one who has suffered a human failure, who has sinned, to acknowledge the harm done another person, to himself and to the monastic community, and to begin again. It is perhaps no less difficult for members of the monastic community to offer forgiveness and support to a fallen brother as he renews his commitment to conversion of life.

For monks who have faced credible allegation of sexual abuse or misconduct, Saint John's Abbey has developed individual "Safety Plans." (“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.)

Monks living under supervision meet with a monastic superior regularly for a review and, if necessary, to update the Safety Plan. The Safety Plans are required for monks who wish to remain members of the monastic community. The Plans impose appropriate restrictions on monks' activities and ability to move freely both on and away from Saint John's property. The plans are not tantamount to "house arrest."

Some members of the Saint John's monastic community have lived within the boundaries of Safety Plans for more than twenty years and the Abbey is unaware of a single instance of sexual misconduct recidivism.

The Safety Plans are mutual contracts between an accused monk and the Abbey. No monk living with the restrictions of a Safety Plan faces legal liability. Each is free to terminate the plan, withdraw from the monastic community and begin life anew wherever he might choose to live with the freedom of any citizen. Some former monks have chosen the option of leaving the monastic community to live and work in the larger community. Others believe they can find the support they need for the transformation of their lives within the community to which each professed vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life.

3Is the Abbey harboring persons who would be arrested if they were not living in the Abbey?

There is much confusion about the legal status of monks with individual safety plans. No accused monk at Saint John's Abbey has been charged with or convicted of a criminal act. Although each offender has been barred by the Abbey from serving as ministers of the Church, legally each retains all of the rights and privileges of any citizen.

There has also been some confusion or misunderstanding regarding Saint John's Abbey's program to deal with its members who have faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct. As the program has evolved since its inception in 1992, a variety of words have been used to describe the status of monks charged with misconduct. The words have included "supervision," "restriction," and "safety plan," and all refer to the same individual, voluntary agreements entered into by the Abbey and accused monks who have chosen to continue as members of the monastic community.

Because of the confusion resulting from the use of different labels - both inside the Abbey and in the broader community - the Abbey has decided to use the single phrase, "individual safety plan," henceforth to describe the agreement between credibly accused monks and their monastic community/ abbey. The Abbey has also published a clarifying description of the meaning of "Safety Plan."   Although the safety plans include strict, ongoing accountability, they are not tantamount to house arrest.

The individual safety plans are significantly more rigid than the legal restrictions included in Minnesota State law for those who have been convicted of a crime, "served their time" and have completed probation. There are no restrictions for such persons under Minnesota criminal law.

If an individual monk were to choose to leave the monastery there is no federal or state law that could interfere with his decision to do so. He would be allowed to move freely anywhere in the broader community with the full legal status of a U.S. citizen.

Canon law of the Catholic Church would continue to impose a permanent restriction on such an individual’s ability to serve in any ministerial capacity

 

4. Where did the money for settlements come from? Did any come from the University or Prep School?

The money for settlements from 1990 through 2010 came from Abbey resources and insurance carriers. The University and Preparatory School participated in a single settlement in 2011.

5. How many members of the community are living with Safety Plans?

Ten

6. How can a person report abuse that occurred?

Survivors of any form of sexual 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 and reconciliation. Survivors may contact Abbot John Klassen at Saint John’s Abbey or an authorized Survivor Advocate.

The Victim Assistance Coordinator for the St. Cloud Diocese is Roxann Storms, MSW, LGSW, FT. Telephone (320) 248-1563.

The Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis, MN, 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 or 870-0574.

Survivor Advocates are available nationwide and may be located by contacting area social service offices or, in most areas, diocesan officials.

The Abbey does not act on anonymous or third-person allegations.

7. Are monks with Safety Plans permitted to interact with students at Saint John's?

Monks are able to interact with students on a very limited basis. Safety Plans include significant restrictions that ensure appropriate boundaries. Monks with a Safety Plan may not have social relationships or individual contact with vulnerable persons of any age on the Saint John's campus or off-campus, in any setting. Monks who are living with a Safety Plan are generally free to move about campus with some exceptions. They are free to use the library, the bookstore and to walk the roads and byways on the campus.

8. At one time credibly accused monks could not leave the campus unaccompanied. Has this changed? If so, why?

For a short period of time before the Abbey completed risk assessments with Project Pathfinder all credibly accused monks were restricted from traveling away from the Abbey unaccompanied. Collaborating in 2003-2004, the Abbey and Project Pathfinder developed individual Safety Plans and assigned a supervisor for each accused member of the monastic community. After risk assessment with Project Pathfinder in 2004 concluded that each of the accused monks was at low risk to re-offend, monks with Safety Plans were given qualified permission to leave the Abbey property unaccompanied. Each must obtain permission from a supervisor and provide the times of departure and return as well as the purpose of the trip.

9. How does the Abbey find no-risk employment for men living with Safety Plans?

There are many jobs within the monastery at which monks can serve and keep from contact with those who may be vulnerable.

10. Have charges of sexual misconduct against members of the monastic community had a negative effect on University and Preparatory School enrollment or fundraising for the Abbey and its enterprises?

It is very difficult to assess the impact of the abuse crisis on fundraising or enrollment. Some donors have decided against making a gift because of the crisis. Others have continued, and in some instances increased, their gifts to support Abbey, University or Preparatory School programs during this difficult and challenging time.

University and Preparatory School enrollments have routinely met or exceeded goals, and enrollment projections have not changed for the University or Preparatory School.

Fundraising for Saint John's Abbey as well as the University and Preparatory School reached and exceeded goals, and each entity has completed successful capital campaigns during the last several years.

 

11. Have any monks of Saint John's Abbey been falsely accused of sexual abuse?

Yes, some monks of Saint John's have been falsely accused of sexual abuse. All accusations, whether false and credible, have undergone thorough review and investigation.

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."

*"Misconduct" is the term commonly used for sexual impropriety involving a person who is 18 years of age or older.

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 or Dr. James Ayers, Ph.D., Clinic Director. Telephone (612) 870-0565 or 870-0574, James Ayers can also be contacted by email at jayers@walkin.org

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.