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  Lawsuit Widens Claims of Abuse
St. John's Abbey and Two of Its Priests Are the Targets of the Suit by Two Former Prep School Students

By Paul McEnroe and Pam Louwagie
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
June 7, 2002

Declaring themselves victims of sexual abuse and claiming that St. John's Abbey has covered up such abuse for decades, two former prep school students on Thursday sued the abbey and two priests already living under restrictions because of sexual misconduct.

In addition to the two priests named as defendants in the lawsuit _ the Rev. Dunstan Moorse and the Rev. Allen Tarlton _ eight other abbey clergy members accused of abuse were listed in the suit in an attempt to show that the abbey engaged in a 40-year conspiracy of secrecy. Attorney Jeff Anderson also accused the abbey of creating what he called a "public relations sham" organization to address abuse by clergy members.

Standing on the steps of the Stearns County Courthouse on Thursday morning with one of the former students were supporters who said they, too, had been abused by abbey priests. They all demanded that the abbey fully disclose abuse cases that they say were kept from law-enforcement officials and the public.

After the abbey was served with the suit, Anderson held a news conference and called the abbey's order "a clerical culture of secrecy, sin and shame and protection of felonious conduct."

Bill Quenroe of Minneapolis is one of the two plaintiffs who sued the priests and the abbey Thursday.

While attending St. John's prep school in the early 1980s, Quenroe said, he was abused by Moorse. "You could call it abuse or you could call it rape. I was victimized," Quenroe said.

"When I needed some love and attention, I got the wrong kind," he said. He said he's speaking out in an attempt to make sure sexual abuse isn't suffered by another student at the hands of a priest. "If standing on the courthouse steps means I can save one kid, then it's worth it," he said.

The Rev. William Skudlarek, abbey spokesman, said Thursday that the abbey takes the allegations seriously and will do its best to respond to any people who say they were abused.

The abbey has said 13 monks are living under restrictions. Skudlarek said Thursday that abbey officials have put another monk under "quasi-restrictions" while they investigate recent allegations against him.

The allegations

Anderson has sued the abbey at least a dozen times since 1991 over alleged sexual abuse by priests and monks. Most of the suits have been settled.

The suit filed Thursday alleges that Tarlton and Moorse were allowed to continue teaching despite concerns that clergy officials had about their sexual behavior.

Tarlton was allowed to teach at the prep school after he was treated for sexuality problems at a licensed psychiatric facility in Maryland in 1982, the suit says. Three years later, he allegedly abused one of the suit's plaintiffs, who isn't identified in the suit.

The same plaintiff says he was sexually abused by Moorse in 1985. Documents from the abbey's files, which are cited in the suit, show that a year earlier clergy officials questioned whether Moorse should be removed from the prep school because of his sexual behavior toward students.

In 1987, Abbot Jerome Theisen wrote in Moorse's file that he wanted Moorse to teach at Benilde-St. Margaret's school in St. Louis Park despite having serious reservations about the priest's problems. "I know it is a risk," Theisen wrote.

The unnamed plaintiff, referred to as John Doe 43, alleges that Tarlton and Moorse threatened him and warned him not to tell anyone.

Anderson said because the abbey engaged in a coverup and because the unidentified victim had been threatened to keep quiet, he believes the statute of limitations should be waived.

In addition to Moorse and Tarlton, the suit accuses the abbey of engaging in a pattern of concealment and outlines alleged abuse by eight other priests dating to the early 1960s. The abbey has confirmed that all eight are living under restrictions.

The suit lays out these allegations against those priests, who aren't defendants in the suit:

- The Rev. Brennan Maiers, ordained in 1963, who is accused of abusing a boy in 1966.

- The Rev. John Eidenschink, who is accused of leading a boy to his bedroom and fondling him during weekly counseling meetings in the early 1960s. After the first incident, the boy went to the seminary rector and described how Eidenschink asked him to take off his clothes and then fondled him. The rector became angry and told the boy to leave his office. Eidenschink was named abbot of St. John's in 1971 and served until 1979.

- The Rev. Cosmos Dahlheimer, who received shock treatments for psychological problems in the early 1960s. From 1970 to 1978, he allegedly abused four boys at parishes in St. Cloud and St. Paul. The suit alleges that the abbey didn't tell Dahlheimer of some of the allegations when it learned about them in 1987. He hasn't admitted to any abuse.

- The Rev. Francis Hoefgen, who was allowed to continue serving as an associate pastor at a church in Cold Spring, Minn., in the mid-1980s even after reportedly admitting he abused a boy twice.

- The Rev. Thomas Gillespie, who is accused of abusing a boy on St. John's property in 1977 and 1978.

- Brother John Kelly, who is accused of continuing to abuse a boy for more than two years after the boy had reported him to a school chaplain.

- The Rev. Finian McDonald, who the suit claims abused a college student at least three times in 1975.

- The Rev. Richard Eckroth, who is accused of abusing two boys at a cabin in northern Minnesota and at a church rectory in St. Cloud in the early 1970s. Eckroth allegedly threatened one boy into secrecy by telling him "words to the effect of 'Don't tell. If you do, you'll be dead.' "

Eckroth hasn't admitted to any abuse, abbey officials have said.

Stearns County sheriff's officials named Eckroth last month as a suspect in the 1974 stabbing deaths of Susanne and Mary Reker, two sisters from St. Cloud whose bodies were found in a remote quarry in Stearns County.

Concerns about ISTI

The suit claims the abbey failed to properly use an organization it created to address clergy abuse in various religions.

The Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI), which comprises religious leaders, sexual offenders and victims, was created in 1993 following initial allegations of sexual abuse by members of the abbey. At the time, more than 20 experts from across the country were invited by Abbot Timothy Kelly to discuss what steps had to be taken.

The consultants recommended that specific policies and procedures be developed to prevent further abuses. The board met twice a year in sessions closed to the news media. It is now being folded into the university's theology school, officials said.

At least one former ISTI board member questions its effectiveness.

A.W. Richard Sipe, who left the board after serving a two-year stint as chairman, said in an interview that ISTI was created with good intentions, but he believes many of its board members never learned the extent of St. John's problems.

Sipe said he tried to address St. John's abuse problems in an executive meeting in 1995, but was "roundly excoriated" by Abbot Kelly. He said he tried to bring up another abuse allegation in private and Kelly dismissed it, too.

Kelly couldn't be reached to comment. He now serves as president of the American-Cassinese Congregation, a confederation of 21 autonomous Benedictine monasteries in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

But board member Mark Laaser, of Chanhassen, said he and two other board members once questioned abbey officials and attorneys about their release of information to the board and he felt comfortable with their response.

"My interpretation was they were always very clear with us about what had been happening," Laaser said.

Show of support

Patrick Marker, who settled an abuse suit against Moorse nearly 10 years ago, was one of several former victims who stood on courthouse steps Thursday to offer support.

"I want to uncover everything so we can rebury it appropriately," he said in an interview Wednesday. He said he no longer sees himself as a victim, however: "I'm a survivor and an activist now."

 
 

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