Lawsuits: Ex-prior abused St. John's Prep students
By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
April 12, 2016
Two lawsuits filed Tuesday name St. John's Abbey's former prior the Rev. Tom Andert as an abuser of two former students in the 1970s and early '80s.
The lawsuits come after St. John's Abbey and its review board previously cleared Andert by claiming the allegations against him were unsubstantiated. But the lawyer representing the men suing Andert said that abbey investigators never interviewed the victim in one of the lawsuits before declaring the allegations unsubstantiated.
Todd Belrose, who lives in Florida, identified himself as a victim of Andert's and is suing the former prior, St. John's Abbey, the Order of St. Benedict and St. John's Prep School. A second lawsuit, filed by a victim identified as John Doe 324, names the same defendants.
One lawsuit accuses Andert of abuse in 1970 or 1971, while the other accuses him of abuse in 1979 or 1980. Both victims were 14 at the time and were students at the Prep School.
At a press conference Tuesday in St. Paul, Jeffrey Anderson mentioned a third victim of Andert's, a student whom Anderson said was abused by Andert in the mid-1990s when Andert was the headmaster at the Prep School. Ben Spanier struggled with depression and unsuccessfully attempted suicide before killing himself last year, Anderson said.
When Spanier's family brought the allegations to the abbey's attention in 1994, then-Abbot Timothy Kelly removed Andert as headmaster and sent him to St. Luke's Institute, a Maryland facility known for treating priests facing allegations of sexual misconduct, Anderson said.
The abbey said at that time that allegations against Andert were unsubstantiated, Anderson said. Andert's name has never been on the abbey's list of those with credible allegations against them of the abuse of minors.
The abbey issued a statement Tuesday saying that it denies the allegations in the lawsuits and intends to defend both cases.
"Further, in the press conference, Mr. Anderson misstated the efforts to interview Mr. Belrose as part of the independent investigation," the statement read. "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."
Andert returned to St. John's as a faculty resident and eventually ascended to prior, the No. 2 position within the abbey after the abbot.
When Belrose came forward with allegations of abuse by Andert, the abbey offered therapy and wanted an investigator to interview Belrose. Belrose told them he wanted to work through some issues in therapy before meeting with an investigator. The abbey cleared Andert without formally interviewing Belrose, Anderson said.
Anderson said he thought a corner had been turned with the abbey in handling sex abuse allegations because of a settlement in another case that led to the disclosure of several monk and priest files.
"I’m here to say the corner hasn’t been turned," Anderson said. "I say this with great sorrow and with horror.”
He said that Belrose came forward with his name and his story "to honor Ben’s legacy."
Belrose is accusing Andert and Allen Tarlton of abusing him. Tarlton has been the subject of previous lawsuits; he passed away earlier this year. Belrose said he never finished his first year of school after the abuse and tried to commit suicide. He has lived the last 35 years "in pain, mostly because I thought that I was alone and nothing could be done,” Belrose said.
He wrote Abbot John Klassen last year after learning that Andert was the prior.
“I can’t believe that Fr. Tom is back in a position where other people, kids, can be hurt,” Belrose said.
In its February statement clearing Andert of wrongdoing, the abbey said it interviewed multiple classmates, Prep School faculty, staff and residence hall prefects, other campus officials and reviewed records and documents. It said that a "six-month-long, comprehensive investigation into the claims" did not find any support for the allegations that Andert sexually assaulted Belrose.
Those findings were presented to the St. John’s Abbey External Review Board, which found them to be unsubstantiated.
Klassen restored Andert to ministry. Andert was at the end of his term as the abbey’s prior and chose to resign from this position "in order to move forward."