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  Accused Clergy Remain at St. John's Abbey

Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 30, 2002

Between 13 and 15 monks or priests live and work under restrictions at St. John's Abbey after being accused of or admitting to sexual abuse, the abbot for the monastery said.

The number represents about 7 percent of the 196 monks and priests affiliated with the monastery and nearby St. John's University, a preparatory school and a religious press.

Restrictions vary for the men, but they include keeping them off college or prep school grounds and out of university athletic facilities.

Abbot John Klassen, who has led the monastery in central Minnesota for 17 months, said he has been reviewing abuse allegations and wants to "clear the decks."

He didn't offer a precise number of clergy who are restricted, in part because the types of cases vary. Klassen said the alleged victims were mostly boys ranging in age from 12 to 17, in incidents that took place in the 1970s.

While he's heard some people say the abbey should simply get rid of anyone accused of such wrongdoing, Klassen said keeping the men at St. John's in a structured, monitored environment could be seen as a better option.

"When they are here, they are in our community, and the public doesn't have to worry about what is happening in the larger community," he said.

Klassen earlier sent a letter to St. John's University officials and students revealing abuse allegations against a former abbot, the Rev. John Eidenschink.

Klassen said he sent the letter because he wanted to put an end to "a culture of secrecy that makes sexual abuse and exploitation possible." He said the allegations had never been discussed, even within the monastery.

Eidenschink, who served as abbot from 1971-1979, was in poor health at the monastery and wasn't available for comment. Two adult members of the monastery accused him of sexual abuse. After the first allegation, Eidenschink was removed from his position as pastor of Seven Dolors Church in Albany, Minn., and assigned as chaplain of a nursing home. He was brought back to the abbey after the second allegation. He now lives at the abbey's retirement center.

Klassen has made public eight other names: Cosmos Dahlheimer, Richard Eckroth, Finian McDonald, Brennan Maiers, Dunstan Moorse, Allen Tarlton, Fran Hoefgen and John Kelly.

Each has had "credible allegations" levied against them, and - except for Dahlheimer and Eckroth - has acknowledged wrongdoing and sought treatment, Klassen said. He initially identified the men in an interview with the St. Cloud Times, which asked him about several people who had been involved in lawsuits.

Klassen declined to reveal the identity of any others, saying their names weren't part of the public record.

Dahlheimer and Eckroth - who along with Eidenschink are retired - have denied the allegations, Klassen said. McDonald, Maiers, Hoefgen and Kelly did not return phone messages left by The Associated Press. Moorse and Tarlton declined to comment.

None of the men publicly identified by Klassen has been criminally charged with sexual abuse.

The revelations come as the Catholic church is reviewing its policies on sexual abuse. Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said last week that he could foresee the church finding a role for clergy guilty of abuse, but "not a pastoral setting." Flynn was speaking about the work of a committee he's heading that will make recommendations to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June.

Klassen said that if the abbey kicked out the priests on restriction, no one in society would know about their problem.

"When a man joins the (monastic) community, it is for better or for worse," he said. "Healing can occur here."

 
 

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