Court to Consider Expelling Clergy

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN)
July 6, 2003

A Minneapolis man who accuses St. John's Abbey of "harboring pedophiles" has filed a court action demanding the removal of 11 monks and priests from St. John's property.

John Kerwin filed an unlawful detainer against the 11, all of whom are either restricted in their activities and movements at the abbey or are on leave from the abbey for various sexual misdeeds. Kerwin, a lifelong Catholic, demands their removal from the abbey because the men have violated their "lease agreement" by not complying with their vows of celibacy.

Unlawful detainers are used by tenants to evict renters who have violated their lease agreements. Kerwin's unlawful detainer probably will generate more publicity than any of the other approximately 400 that will be filed in Stearns County this year.

"In my many, many years in the Catholic system, the kind of thing that occurred - and in my opinion is being sheltered at St. John's Abbey - is unprecedented, except maybe the Spanish Inquisition," said Kerwin, a 58-year-old whose family owns farmland near Clear Lake.

In court

A hearing on Kerwin's request has been scheduled for Thursday in front of Stearns County District Court Judge Skipper Pearson. The 11 abbey monks or priests named are: Finian McDonald, Thomas Gillespie, Francisco Schulte, John Eidenschink, Andre Bennett, Brennan Maiers, Richard Eckroth, Cosmas Dahlheimer, Allen Tarlton, Fran Hoefgen and Dunstan Moorse.

All but Schulte remain on restriction at the abbey. Schulte has requested and has been granted a leave from the abbey, said the Rev. William Skudlarek, abbey spokesman.

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Abbot John Klassen last year acknowledged about a dozen abbey monks or priests have restrictions on their movements and activities after being accused of various sexual misdeeds. Some of the accused have admitted the allegations against them. Klassen said then that he had no intention of expelling any of the accused men from abbey property.

Klassen was unavailable for comment on Kerwin's action, but Skudlarek reiterated the abbot's philosophy.

"They are our family members who have done wrong and we are first of all concerned for healing the wrong they have done, primarily for the victims but also helping them repent and be converted," Skudlarek said. "We think that can be done better here."

Kerwin disagrees.

"I think they need to be cast out for the good of the church and for the good of the abbey. Are they going to live out their lives as protected pedophiles in rural Minnesota?"

Dismiss suit

The St. Cloud attorney representing the Order of St. Benedict and the abbey plans to ask Pearson to dismiss Kerwin's action. Kerwin doesn't own the property where the monks and priests live, has no authorization from the owner to bring the action and has no legal basis or right to seek the eviction of the defendants, said Ron Brandenburg.

The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., is the owner of the property, Brandenburg said, and the defendants named in the action - as members of the Order of St. Benedict - have the legal right to use and occupy the property.

Kerwin said he understands landlord-tenant law because of his experience leasing rental properties in the Twin Cities area, he said. He described himself as a lifelong Catholic who attended Catholic schools in the Twin Cities. He's "disgusted" by the sexual abuse scandals involving the church and said the issue has moved him to act even though he remains a devoted Catholic.

"By harboring felons within the church, they're sending the message out that this is accepted, and a lot of people I think conclude that this is commonplace," Kerwin said.

The monks and priests he named need to be cast out like Jesus cast out the money changers, Kerwin said. He conceded that Klassen has done more than previous abbots to repair the damage done by abusive clergy. He hasn't gone far enough, said Kerwin, who called on Klassen to join him in his request to evict the accused.

"What I would hope is that the authorities harboring these people would join with me as a Catholic and cast these people out," Kerwin said.

Two abbey monks on leave weren't named in Kerwin's filing - Isaac Connolly and John Kelly. Skudlarek confirmed that a total of three monks are on leave and 10 remain at the abbey with restrictions. The St. John's community includes about 190 monks.


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