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  St. John's Priest's Obituary Upsets Sexual Abuse Survivor

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, MN)
February 25, 2004

A survivor of sexual abuse by a recently deceased St. John's Abbey priest is critical of information the abbey included in the priest's published death notice.

Abbot John Klassen said the obituary was presented the way it was in an effort to be sensitive to the victims and to acknowledge a painful part of the abbey's and the priest's past.

The Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer, 95, died Saturday and was buried Tuesday after a funeral at the abbey church.

His death notice was published in Sunday's Times and contained a reference to the allegations that Dahlheimer sexually abused young people while he was a parish priest in the 1970s.

Dahlheimer was one of more than dozen abbey monks or priests who faced restrictions on their activities and movements because of allegations of sexual misdeeds.

Allen Vogel and his brother accused Dahlheimer of abusing them and were part of a landmark settlement between survivors and the abbey in 2002.

Part of the settlement included an admission from Abbot John Klassen that he believed Dahlheimer abused the Vogels, something Dahlheimer repeatedly denied.

A portion of Dahlheimer's paid obituary notice, which was submitted to the Times with Klassen's approval, said: "The final years of his life were clouded by the advance of Alzheimer's disease and persistent allegations, which he denied, of the sexual abuse of minors many years before. He was unaware of the penalties imposed upon him by the U.S. bishops in June 2002."

"Initially my response was to put it down. I didn't want to read it," Allen Vogel said of the notice. "To me it just seems like another attempt for St. John's, not just on (Dahlheimer's behalf) but for St. John's, to mask what happened out there."

In addition to acknowledging personally to the Vogels his belief that Dahlheimer had abused them, Klassen made a similar acknowledgment in Times' articles in April 2001. He didn't intend to offend any sex abuse survivors or anyone else with the wording in Dahlheimer's obituary notice, he said Tuesday.

"I am not, and St. John's Abbey is not, backing away in any shape or form from an acknowledgment of what happened to either Allen or Michael Vogel," Klassen said in an interview Tuesday.

The decision to address the allegations in the obituary notice was a difficult one, he said. He chose to do so because the allegations against Dahlheimer were widely reported in the media and because of a sensitivity to and respect for the victims. The abbey community also needed to recognize and admit that it happened, said Rev. William Skudlarek, abbey spokesman.

"We needed to acknowledge that this was a part of this man's life," Klassen said.

Vogel admits that his interpretation of the two sentences in the notice might differ from how others might interpret them. He wonders why the abbey had to mention the allegations in Dahlheimer's notice at all.

"I just didn't think it was necessary for them to make mention of it whatsoever," Vogel said. "It doesn't make any sense. Is that the legacy he wanted to leave behind?"

 
 

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