In a landmark move, St. John's Abbey releases files on child-abusing monks
By Jean Hopfensperger
January 19, 2016
|St. John’s Abbey, long the subject of sex abuse allegations, opened up its clergy files to public scrutiny for the first time on Tuesday.|
Photo by Richard Sennott
St. John’s Abbey, long the subject of sex abuse allegations, opened up its clergy files to public scrutiny for the first time on Tuesday. The files were immediately labeled incomplete by victims’ advocates.
The abbey in Collegeville, Minn., released its personnel files on 18 monks credibly accused of sexually abusing minors as part of a legal settlement reached by a St. Cloud man who said he was abused by a monk as a St. John’s Preparatory School student in 1977.
Although the files went online at mntransparencyinitiative.com Tuesday, the abbey’s website made no mention of the historic revelations by the day’s end.
There are up to 1,000 pages of documents on each monk, including hundreds of pages of routine correspondence, medical reports and updates on monks’ assignments. But the files also include correspondence pointing to what the abbey knew about the monks’ behavior and how it was addressed.
The accused monks worked as teachers, counselors, parish priests and chaplains across Minnesota and beyond. The files show how they were transferred to other religious work even though the abbey was aware of sexual improprieties.
Seven still live at the abbey, under “safety plans,” on a campus shared with St. John’s University.
“The files share heartbreaking and tragic details of suffering inflicted on survivors of misconduct,” wrote Abbot John Klassen in a media statement. “We in the monastic community grieve the pain and suffering of those who have been harmed.”
But Patrick Marker, a former St. John’s Prep student who has long run a website documenting alleged sexual misconduct at the abbey, said the list is incomplete.
“There are several monks who have been credibly accused of abuse who are not on this list,” said Marker, who added that certain documents appear to be missing.
For example, the 18 files do not include information on a priest, the Rev. Agustin Cerezo Murillo, who is listed on Marker’s website, Behind the Pine Curtain. Marker, who served on the abbey’s External Review Board from 2003 to 2006, produced a 2006 document showing that the Archdiocese of New York notified St. John’s Abbey after it received an allegation of abuse against Cerezo Murillo. The archdiocese indicated that there were “other episodes,” said the typewritten note, ending with “Abbot John Klassen, Feb. 17, 2006.”
The files on the monks at the abbey, the largest Benedictine monastery in North America, were released as part of a 2015 legal settlement with Troy Bramlage of St. Cloud. Bramlage said he had been abused as a 14-year-old by his English teacher, the Rev. Allen Tarlton, who still lives at the abbey. Bramlage was represented by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, whose office released files on nine of the monks in November.
“It is alarming that so many of these credibly accused monks were allowed to work at other parishes, dioceses and communities after St. John’s Abbey received abuse reports,” said Mike Finnegan, an attorney at Anderson’s law firm. “Parishioners, parents, kids and communities were not warned about the monks’ abusive past.”
Tarlton, for example, went on to serve in the Bahamas, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Archdiocese of Louisville, Finnegan said. The Rev. Othmar Hohmann moved to the Diocese of Duluth and the Diocese of St. Cloud, he said. The Rev. Dunstan Moorse worked in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In its statement, the abbey said the files reflect its decades-long accountability for the abuse and its “proactive outreach ... to reach other potential survivors of abuse, to voluntarily reach economic settlements with survivors and to provide financial support for counseling.”
Wrote Klassen: “The files reflect all the effective actions that have been taken in the past quarter-century to publicly reach out to other survivors of abuse and to implement effective policies and actions to stop additional incidents of abuse.”