Lawsuit Targets St. John's Prep School, Abbey

By David Unze
St Cloud Times
December 9, 2009

MINNESOTA -- A former St. John's Prep School student sued the school and St. John's Abbey on Tuesday, alleging fraud for allowing a monk to continue interacting with students after they received an allegation of sexual misconduct against the monk.

Jeramiah "Jerry" D. McCarthy's lawsuit accuses the school and abbey of knowing as early as the mid-1960s that the Rev. Bruce Wollmering had been "sexually inappropriate" with a child. The lawsuit accuses them of concealing the allegations against Wollmering, and it accuses Wollmering of abusing McCarthy in 1971.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Stearns County District Court, accuses Wollmering of having a history of sexual misconduct with students. Wollmering was a counselor and psychology professor at St. John's who died in February at the age of 68.

Abbot John Klassen in July 2006 announced that credible sexual misconduct allegations had been made against Wollmering and two other members of the St. John's monastic community who hadn't been named publicly previously. At that time, Klassen said the abbey learned of the Wollmering allegations in 2004 and that they involved sexual misconduct in the early 1980s against a former St. John's University student.

The abbey released a statement Tuesday that didn't directly address the allegations against Wollmering or when it first learned of allegations against him.

"The individual named in the lawsuit was the subject of a press release by the abbey in July of 2006," the statement said of Wollmering. "Saint John's takes the issue of sexual misconduct very seriously, and over many years, has worked to ensure that policies and procedures on human rights are followed and enforced. Saint John's policies are clear and long-standing: we do not tolerate sexual misconduct in any form."

McCarthy was a 16-year-old Prep student in 1971, when he met with Wollmering for academic and psychological testing and for spiritual counseling. The sexual contact by Wollmering occurred in Wollmering's office in the Great Hall on campus, said McCarthy, who now lives in Brooklyn Park.

"It set me on a path that didn't help me in life," McCarthy said of the alleged abuse by Wollmering.

McCarthy dropped out of school, later getting his GED, he said. He never told family or friends about what happened, he said, and hadn't followed the news in the early 2000s about the abbey placing several monks on restrictions for allegations of sexual abuse. He didn't know that Wollmering was one of the monks later put on restriction, he said.

"I read his obituary in the newspaper and, just out of curiosity, I Googled his name," McCarthy said.

He saw a Web site that was compiling information on allegations against St. John's Abbey members, he said. Then, for the first time in his life, he said, he told someone about his experiences with Wollmering.

McCarthy said he only learned a few days ago that someone else also had reported abuse allegations against Wollmering.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday details allegations against 10 other abbey monks and priests and accuses the abbey of a pattern of concealment, thereby representing that Wollmering and the others were not a danger to children.

It's the first time that St. John's Abbey has been sued for fraud, said Patrick Noaker, the attorney representing McCarthy.

"Had Jerry's family known that St. John's had that many child molesters, they never would have sent him there," Noaker said.

Previous lawsuits related to decades-old abuse allegations have failed because they were filed outside the statute of limitations, which is a time period in which a victim must file a claim or be barred from doing so.

This lawsuit is within the statute of limitations, Noaker said, because the statute of limitations on fraud cases begins to run when a potential victim discovers that fraud has occurred.

In this case, that was when McCarthy learned of what the abbey reportedly knew about Wollmering in the 1960s, Noaker said.


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