Lawsuits Allege Child Sex Abuse by Official St. John's Abbey Had Cleared
By Richard Chin
April 12, 2016
Two lawsuits against St. John’s Abbey — accusing a former prior of child sexual abuse decades ago — have been filed in Stearns County, a St. Paul law firm announced Tuesday.
|the Rev. Thomas Andert (Courtesy photo)|
The lawsuits allege that St. John’s Abbey former prior and No. 2 leader, the Rev. Tom Andert, abused Todd Belrose, then a 14-year-old student at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, in 1979 or 1980.
|The Rev. Allen Tarlton (Photo courtesy Jeff Anderson)|
The lawsuits also accuse Allen Tarlton, a monk at St. John’s Abbey, of abusing Belrose in about 1979 or 1980. Tarlton died in January.
Another plaintiff, identified as Doe 324, accused Andert of sexual abuse in 1970 to 1971 when Doe 324 was a 14-year-old student at St. John’s Prep. Doe 324’s lawsuit also says he was molested at the same time by Bruce Wollmering, a St. John’s Abbey priest and monk who is now dead.
Belrose’s lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said Belrose originally wrote a letter to St. John’s Abbey accusing Andert of abuse in July 2015.
Andert, who had previously served as a headmaster of St. John’s Prep, resigned his position as prior at the time of the accusation letter and was granted a sabbatical.
But in February, the school announced that a six-month independent investigation, including a review by an external board, showed that the abuse allegations against Andert and Tarlton were unsubstantiated.
Jeff Anderson, however, said that St. John’s made its decision to clear Andert without interviewing Belrose.
Anderson said St. John’s officials similarly dismissed allegations by a student, Ben Spanier, who accused Andert of abuse in the 1990s. Spanier killed himself in December 2014.
|Todd Belrose, taken when he was 14-15 years old, in about 1979-1980. (Courtesy photo)|
Belrose decided to sue St. John’s, taking advantage of 2013 state law setting aside the statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits for three years. The deadline for such suits is May 25.
“I can’t believe that Father Tom is back in a position where other people, kids, can be hurt, and that’s why I was asked to speak today, and that’s why I’m here,” Belrose said a news conference Tuesday. “After I heard the news about Father Tom being reinstated, I thought it was not only in my best interests, but in the best interests of other people to contact Jeff Anderson’s office and to come forward with my story.”
A statement released Tuesday by St. John’s Abbey denies the allegations in the two new lawsuits, and says the abbey fully intends to defend both cases.
The statement adds that Anderson “misstated the effort to interview Mr. Belrose as part of the independent investigation. Mr. Belrose was contacted multiple times and invited to provide a statement or participate in an interview. He refused without offering a reason or details of his allegation.”
Belrose, however, said that he participated in therapy offered by St. John’s and he told the abbey he would answer questions for the investigation, but he needed time in therapy first.
Belrose said that because of the sexual abuse by Tarlton and Andert, he attempted suicide on the St. John’s campus and dropped out of the school.
“For the last 35 years I’ve lived in pain, and mostly because I thought that I was alone and nothing could be done and there was no help for me. Last year I decided enough was enough and I was going to need to do something about taking my life back.”
“I want everybody else out there that may have been a victim or a survivor to please do something. Take your life back. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. I’m living proof that standing up for yourself is the right thing to do,” Belrose said.
A statement from Doe 324 said, “I came forward after decades of suffering in silence because I came to finally realize that the more we who suffered abuse as children find the strength to come forward, the less of a chance what happened to us will happen to someone else. For over 35 years I battled alcoholism. I was ashamed, humiliated and had a terrible self-image. I was a loner, and I shunned those in leadership positions all my life.”
Another man, Edward “Troy” Bramlage III, sued St. John’s Abbey in 2013 alleging he was abused by Tarlton at the prep school in 1977 when Bramlage was 14.
That suit was settled last year resulting in the release of personnel files for 19 monks accused of sexually abusing minors.
Anderson said the abbey promised “a new kind of transparency.”
But at the news conference announcing the new lawsuits Tuesday, Bramlage said, “Nothing’s changed. More garbage.”
“They’re supposed to be our spiritual leaders. They’re supposed to be there to help us. And every time we turn around, well, they’ve helped us, all right. They’ve helped us drink a little more. Use a little more. Try to kill ourselves because we don’t feel whole,” Bramlage said.
Anderson said Bramlage, Belrose and Doe 324 either dropped out or were kicked out of school or attempted suicide in the year they were abused.
Anderson said that during his career, Andert was on a review board that was in charge of examining abuse cases.
Andert could not be reached for comment Tuesday.