Frequently Asked Questions
1. What has the Abbey done to improve screening/preparation of candidates for admission to the monastic community?
Saint John’s Abbey has agreed to meet or exceed the standards set forth by an abuse-prevention accreditation service, Praesidium, Inc. Praesidium’s Accreditation for Religious sets forth rigorous standards for prevention, response and supervision. The first standard requires a rigorous program of screening for new candidates for monastic life, including the following:
- Each candidate must undergo a criminal background check, a psychological evaluation conducted by a licensed psychologist, and be screened for a history of sexually abusing minors.
- No candidate with an established allegation of sexually abusing a minor in his past or who has acquired or intentionally viewed child pornography will be accepted.
2. Why are persons charged with abuse of a minor allowed to continue to live on campus?
When men enter a Benedictine monastery they take vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. Briefly stated, they promise to listen openly to Holy Scripture and the Rule of Benedict and to their abbot, to remain a member for life of the monastery entered and to pursue a Christ-like positive and ongoing transformation of life – even if it means beginning again and again. At the same time, Benedictine communities have always perceived the vows taken as mutual promises of the person making the promises and the monastic community. 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.
It is important to note, however, that this promise of support in no way provides legal immunity for a monk or shelters a monk from prosecution in legal or criminal courts. Saint John’s Abbey cooperates fully with legal authorities.
This lifelong commitment remains a challenge for individual monks and for the monastic community. On the one hand, it is painful for one who has sinned to begin again after recognizing the harm done another person, to himself and to the monastic community. 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 but are not subject to criminal prosecution, Saint John's Abbey has developed individual, supervised Safety Plans. Such a plan is required for any offending monk who wishes to remain a member of the monastic community. Monks living under safety plans meet with a monastic superior regularly to review and, if necessary, to update the safety plan. The safety plans and monks’ compliance with them are also reviewed annually by the External Review Board. The plans impose appropriate safeguards on these monks' activities and ability to move about on and away from Saint John's property. While the plans are not tantamount to "house arrest," they do place significant restrictions on the monks.
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 has responded decisively in the event of re-offense, removing the reoffender to a secure off-site facility.
The safety plans are mutual contracts between an accused monk and the Abbey. No monk living with the restrictions of a safety plan has been the subject of criminal prosecution. Each such monk is free to withdraw from the monastic community, effectively terminating the plan, and begin life anew wherever he might choose to live with the same freedoms as 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 all monks profess vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life.
3. Is the Abbey harboring persons who would be arrested if they were not living in the Abbey?
No. Monks are subject to criminal charges and prosecution just like any other citizen. There is much confusion about the legal status of monks with individual safety plans. None of the accused monks under safety plans 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. And 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 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. How many members of the community are living with safety plans?
5. How can a person report abuse that occurred?
Survivors of sexual abuse 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.
Survivor Advocates are available nationwide and may be located by contacting area social service offices or, in most areas, diocesan officials.
By policy, the Abbey considers anonymous or third-person allegations to the extent feasible based on known information.
6. 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 any minors 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, and to attend public campus events such as athletic contests and concerts.
7. 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 minors.
8. 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 may have decided against making a gift because of the crisis. Others have continued their gifts to support Abbey, University or Preparatory School programs during this difficult and challenging time. Overall, fundraising for Saint John's Abbey as well as the University and Preparatory School have reached and exceeded goals, and each entity has completed successful capital campaigns during recent years.
University and Preparatory School enrollments have routinely met and sometimes exceeded goals, and enrollment projections for the University and Preparatory School do not differ from peer institutions.
9. 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.
[updated March 2016]