Victim sues Abbey, Diocese for its handling of abuse allegations
By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
September 18, 2014
|Lawyer Jeff Anderson of St. Paul describes the lawsuit he has file against St. John’s Abbey and St. Cloud Diocese.|
ST. PAUL – Al and John Vogel's parents worked for St. John's University for a combined 70 years.
Some of those years were dark times for the brothers because they suffered sexual abuse by two St. John's Abbey monks who had befriended the Vogel family. So it was with great hope that the Vogels participated in the 2002 announcement of a landmark settlement between the Vogels' attorney and the abbey.
Promises were made that Abbot John Klassen would take steps to prevent further abuse, tell the public about known offenders in the abbey community and provide therapy for people who had been abused. A second settlement in 2011, again involving multiple claims against abbey monks, reinforced similar settlement terms.
Twelve years after the first settlement, Al and John Vogel are suing St. John's Abbey again, accusing the religious order of failing to live up to the promises it made in those settlements.
"I've been dealing with this since 1972," John Vogel said Thursday. "And in my opinion, we're back to square one."
The Vogels on Thursday sued St. John's Abbey and the Diocese of St. Cloud, accusing them of creating a public nuisance by not protecting the public from known sex offenders who served in the religious orders.
Two unidentified plaintiffs also sued St. John's Abbey, with one of the lawsuits also naming the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, for similar reasons surrounding offenses involving now-deceased Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer and Rev. Richard Eckroth.
The lawsuits also target St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler for comments he made during an interview in which he and Klassen talked with the St. Cloud Times Editorial Board. During that interview, Kettler talked about one diocesan priest who had been removed from ministry and who had restrictions placed on his movements.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the Vogels and the two "John Doe" plaintiffs, said he believes Kettler was referring to James Thoennes and is lying about the level of supervision for him. Thoennes admitted sexually abusing children decades ago.
Official Statement from Diocese of St. Cloud & Diocese Additional Statement
To support his position, Anderson released a deposition he took of Thoennes in which the former priest said he needs permission from the current vicar general of the St. Cloud diocese to travel outside the St. Cloud area. But, Thoennes said in his deposition, he can go to St. Joseph, St. John's University and within St. Cloud without seeking permission from the diocese.
"He is still free to do what he wants," Anderson said of Thoennes. "I wish it was an isolated incident. But it's not."
The Rev. Allan Tarlton, in a deposition for a separate lawsuit, recently told Anderson he has no restrictions on his movements, something Klassen said was in place for known abbey offenders, of which Tarlton is one.
The diocese issued a statement late Thursday afternoon in which it said that Thoennes "does not have faculties to serve publicly as a priest and currently lives in St. Cloud under restrictions."
He is not allowed to have contact with minors unless another adult is present, and he must receive permission to travel "outside the immediate St. Cloud area," the statement said.
SJA Official Statement & SJA Additional Statement
He is required to meet quarterly with a monitoring committee of two lay counselors and the diocese's vicar general that reviews the restrictions and makes recommendations to Kettler for revisions, as needed. Thoennes also must meet monthly with another lay counselor, and he is required to keep "a daily activity log that is reviewed regularly," the statement said.
Kettler "intends to post the full transcript and video of Thoennes' deposition in the near future" on a website. The statement lists the web address as www.saintclouddiocese.org, but the diocese website is http://stcdio.org/.
Anderson again is asking the abbey and diocese to provide complete lists of those credibly accused and to provide to him all files the religious orders have on those who have been credibly accused.
The abbey released a statement Thursday in which it disputed Anderson's assertion that there is "clear and present danger" to the public because of how Klassen has handled the sex abuse scandal.
"That claim is absurd and represents fear-mongering at its worst," the statement read.
The abbey said it had 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 Thursday's lawsuits (Eckroth and Dahlheimer)."
"Since allegations of inappropriate actions by some of our monks were first raised, the abbey has taken specific actions to prevent additional incidents," the statement read. "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 St. John's Abbey in more than two decades."