Lawyers, Alleged Victims Want More from St. Cloud Diocese, St. John's Abbey
By Mark Sommerhauser
St. Cloud Times
February 3, 2014
Leaders of the Diocese of St. Cloud and St. John’s Abbey aren’t doing enough to protect children from clergy who are credibly accused of sex abuse and living in the community, alleged abuse victims and their attorneys said Monday.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Michael Bryant, their clients and advocates spoke at a news conference at Bradshaw & Bryant law offices in Waite Park.
They disputed recent claims by St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler and St. John’s Abbott John Klassen, including their recent assertion that they’ve disclosed all known names of clergy members with credible accusations of abuse.
The attorneys and alleged victims emphasized what they say is the threat posed by such clergy who live at St. John’s Abbey and elsewhere in Central Minnesota. Fourteen credibly accused offenders now live at the abbey, Anderson said.
“As long as there’s a monk who is a sex offender that’s on campus at St. John’s, those kids are not going to be safe,” said Patrick Wall, a former St. John’s monk who now works for Anderson.
An abbey spokesman, Brother Aelred Senna, issued a statement saying the institution is confident it has named all those in its order with credible accusations of abusing minors. The statement also said safety plans in place for credibly accused offenders living at the abbey “assure the safety of the entire community.”
“The processes we have created to prevent new incidents and to engage respectfully and thoroughly with victims are working,” the abbey statement said.
A diocesan official couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Response to the Times interview
At Monday’s news conference, the attorneys and alleged victims addressed comments made by Kettler and Klassen to the Times Editorial Board last month. That interview was video-recorded, streamed and posted on the Times website.
Kettler and Klassen told the editorial board they’ve released all known names of credibly accused members of their orders. They also said they’re confident children are safe at St. John’s, where a preparatory school is located near the abbey, and at other places where credibly accused offenders now live.
Klassen told the editorial board there hasn’t been a substantiated abuse allegation against a minor at the abbey after 1986. He said that shows the efficacy of steps taken by abbey officials to protect children, including risk assessments of offending monks. They’ve also removed them from ministry, teaching or other settings where they might interact with potential victims, he said.
On Monday, Anderson and Bryant pushed back at Kettler’s and Klassen’s statements to the Times board. They were joined by Wall; two alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, Troy Bramlage and Bob Ethan; and the executive director of the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, Peggy LaDue.
Wall questioned the effectiveness of risk assessments of offenders, saying it’s difficult to predict when and where many will reoffend.
Anderson said interviews with victims and other information shows the abbey hasn’t released all the names of credibly accused offenders in their order. Anderson also said he has serious questions about the completeness of the offender list released by the diocese.
“We know that there’s more names out there,” Bryant said. “We expect that more names will come out. And it’s individuals that are alive, individuals that we’re finding out are in our communities.”
Anderson and others at the press conference called on the diocese and abbey to release additional information, including their internal files, on alleged offenders.
They also said there should be public scrutiny of diocesan or abbey safety plans for alleged offenders at St. John’s Abbey or elsewhere. LaDue says she’d like to review the experts and sources used to develop those safety plans.
Anderson also invited Kettler and Klassen to participate in an upcoming public forum on clergy abuse.
A last-minute court order prevented one of the expected centerpieces of Monday’s press conference from materializing.
Anderson and others planned to show a video of a deposition given last year by the Rev. Allen Tarlton, a St. John’s Abbey priest, in an abuse lawsuit against him. Bramlage says Tarlton sexually assaulted him at St. John’s Preparatory School in the 1970s.
But a judge issued a court order shortly before the news conference, requiring the video and transcript of Tarlton’s deposition be kept under wraps. The order was issued in response to an emergency motion filed by Tarlton’s attorney.
Anderson said he hopes to show the video at a later date.
Bramlage said he watched the video of Tarlton’s deposition, and it was painful. Bramlage said he’s particularly concerned that Tarlton and other alleged clergy offenders living in the community might gain access to children again.
A statement from an attorney for Tarlton, Robert Stich, said the protective order was sought to prevent a potential jury pool for Tarlton from being tainted.
“We do not believe that lawsuits should be litigated in the media or at a press conference,” Stich wrote.