Prior Accused of Misconduct
By John F. O'Sullivan
November 2, 2007
A Twin Cities-based lawyer is calling for a St. John's Abbey monk to be removed from an external review board that examines clergy abuse because he says the monk was once involved with sexual misconduct.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney, held a press conference last week, requesting that Fr. Tom Andert be removed from the external review board. Andert was appointed as prior of the Abbey in June. He chose not to comment on this story.
Anderson brought up the 1994 investigations conducted by the Abbey in the relationship between an underage St. John's Prep student and Andert, the then-headmaster of the school.
William Skudlarek, the spokesman for the St. John's Abbey, responded to the press conference by e-mailing a statement to the CSB/SJU community last week, asserting Andert's innocence.
"The investigation revealed no credible charges of sexual abuse," Skudlarek wrote.
Others are questioning the extent of the investigation.
The initial investigation
Richard Sipe served as the chair of Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute at St. John's in 1994. He was involved in the investigation of Andert, and said the investigation didn't do enough.
As the former chairman of the institute, Sipe spoke directly to the alleged victim and his family in 1994. He told The Record in an interview yesterday that an inappropriate relationship between the two did occur.
Anderson also met with the alleged victim in a recent meeting, and clarified the claims.
"When I say offender I don't mean someone who has participated in criminal sexual conduct, but misconduct," Anderson said.
The alleged victim, who has not come forward publicly, has spoken to a handful of people in confidence, Anderson said. "I believe him to be both credible and believable."
A person identified as the victim contacted The Record. The Record does not publish quotes or comments from anonymous sources.
Skudlarek said the victim has to come forward.
"Charges can only be brought by the person who has been the victim," Skudlarek said. "Unless there are charges, you can't act."
Patrick Marker founded Behind the Pine Curtain.com, a Web site containing a list of reported grivences and evidence against Andert and 50 other monks from St. John's.
"If you look at the history of the allegations against monks at St. John's, less then half have come forth with their names," Marker said. "Not everyone who comes forward gives their names and I don't believe that takes anything away from the strength of the allegations."
Marker cites an e-mail that has Abbot John Klassen's name on it, addressed to the alleged victim and dating from Oct. 25, 2002. In the e-mail, Klassen agreed to pay for the victim's counseling. Although Behind the Pine Curtain.com redacts the address line, the victim verified to The Record that his counseling was indeed paid for by the Abbey.
The e-mail from the site reads: "It sounds like you have found the right person to work with, someone whom you trust and is approaching this in a systematic way. The Abbey will fund this work. Please send the bills to me directly at (address)."
The external review board's formation
This issue is being raised 13 years after the alleged inappropriate relationship occurred because Andert was recently appointed to the external review board and appointed as the prior of the Abbey.
The board, which was created in 2002 as part of a settlement with Anderson's clients and the Abbey, was intended as a third party organization comprised of clergy abuse survivors, monks and professionals.
"The review board was created by me as a body to investigate complaints of misconduct," Anderson said. "They're supposed to be investigating Andert, not installing him as prior and on the review board. To promote Andert to prior and instill him on the review board is an offense to every survivor I've spoken to and worked for."
Skudlarek said Andert is not on the external review board.
"Andert sat in on a few meetings for an interim period," Skudlarek said.
That interim period lasted from November of last year until March, said the board's chair, Catherine Lally.
Andert continues to serve as prior to the Abbey.
The prior is second-in-command at the Abbey, serving as Abbot when Klassen is away.
Reaction from community
In a letter dated Sept. 30, Sipe sent a warning to Lee Hanley, St. John's Abbey Communications Director.
In the two-page letter Sipe said: "The appointment of Thomas Andert as Prior is an unwise move for the monastery and in the long run for the college, too. … It is the reality that sooner or later the headlines will proclaim: St. John's appoints sex abuser second in command."
Hanley said he did receive the letter, but would not comment on the letter.
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