Bishop Accountability

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Abuse victims, abbey settle claims
Compensation, safeguards are part of agreement

By Paul McEnroe and Pam Louwagie and
(Minneapolis, MN) Star Tribune
September 27, 2002

Victims of sexual abuse by monks from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., have reached a broad financial settlement with the abbey, attorney Jeff Anderson said Thursday.

Anderson said that the agreement also included "significant noneconomic points that will go towards creating strong safeguards in the future to prevent sexual abuse by abbey monks."

He declined to say how many victims were included in the settlement and how much money the abbey agreed to pay. At least a dozen victims had sued or brought demands against the abbey in the 1990s, and some of them received settlements from the abbey at the time of their lawsuits.

A joint news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday on the abbey grounds. Anderson said that victims, their families and advocates will give statements and that he expects Abbot John Klassen to make a statement.

Anderson said that the agreement, reached in mediation talks that ended several weeks ago, holds the abbey accountable for the harm caused by abusive monks, ensures that safeguards are put in place to prevent abuse in the future, and provides financial compensation for the victims.

Robert Stich, an attorney representing the abbey, said the abbey wanted to address lawsuits and other legal claims without the delays of going through court.

"We got together with Jeff Anderson and decided to try and resolve the matters between us rather than going to court," Stich said.

It is unclear if a lawsuit filed against two abbey monks this summer is part of the settlement.

Last summer, before mediation began, Anderson said that one of his goals beyond compensation was to ensure that abusive monks from the abbey personally apologized to their victims and that an outside board be created to oversee any allegations of abuse so that incidents could not be buried.

The Rev. Columba Stewart, spokesman for the abbey, said the abbey has been committed to the idea of an independent review board "for quite some time."

The abbey has placed more than 12 monks on restriction after it found credible evidence that they committed sexual misconduct. The abbey has publicly identified them. Two of those monks took leave last summer to decide if they wanted to remain in the monastery, an abbey official said Thursday.

The abbey said "a handful" of monks – not identified – are on restriction for sexual misconduct that does not involve other people, but officials would not elaborate.

St. John's Abbey, abuse victims agree to settlement

By Stephen Scott (651) 228-5526 or
October 2, 2002
Saint Paul (MN) Pioneer Press

Collegeville -- Gathered on the very grounds where monks of St. John's Abbey sexually abused them, past victims Tuesday embraced reparations they hope will become a model for the Roman Catholic Church.

An out-of-court settlement was announced between the abbey and more than a dozen victims who were abused between the 1960s and 1980s. As part of the settlement, the abbey will make an undisclosed financial award to the victims.

The agreement also calls for several "noncompensation" measures, including creation of a review board composed entirely of members outside the St. John's Abbey hierarchy: abuse survivors and parents, law enforcement and judicial officials and a mental health professional.

"We put together a model we hope will be embraced by every church, every diocese and every religious order across the country," said the victims' attorney, Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul. "The model provides for prevention, healing and reconciliation."

The board will have authority to investigate allegations and determine whether monks credibly accused should be removed from ministry. Abbot John Klassen said the board will have such authority not because the accused are guilty until proven innocent, but because protecting children should be paramount when allegations arise.

"It's not the first time an external review board process has been established to address these issues," Anderson said, "but I believe this is the first time ... where the control over it was not exercised by the head of a diocese or the general superior of the order or the abbot.

"That's a breakthrough."

In June, U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas and established a national clergy sexual abuse review board. Similar groups operate in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and other Minnesota dioceses. Some past victims have been lukewarm to such boards because the church typically appoints the members.

Because St. John's Abbey is operated by the Benedictines, an order of the Catholic Church, it is not automatically subject to the guidelines of diocesan bishops. Abuse survivors seemed more hopeful about the abbey's plan.

"This is very, very promising," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The composition of this board is very balanced and very explicit. In a number of ways, I feel much more optimistic about this."

The abbey pledged to place accused offenders on immediate leave while allegations are investigated and to disclose the identity of proven abusers to bishops, church leaders and law enforcement officials. When an allegation is substantiated, notice will be sent to parishioners, students and alumni.

The abbey in Collegeville is adjacent to St. John's University and St. John's Preparatory School. At least 11 of the abbey's nearly 200 monks have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, Klassen said. Contact by the 11 with students and other potential victims is restricted.

The settlement also calls for the abbey to pay for a retreat in St. Cloud, Minn., for abuse survivors, continuation of counseling and spiritual direction for past victims, and professional training at the abbey and adjacent schools about preventing sexual abuse.

Victim-survivors, including the eight who were present for Tuesday's announcement next to the Abbey Church, participated in four days of mediation sessions in mid-August that led to the agreement. Negotiations between the abbey and Anderson began in June.
"Having heard an expression from Abbot Klassen and the Abbey of St. John's that they wanted to come to the table, we went to the table," Anderson said. "It has been a process unlike any other that I've been involved in. There has been a genuine and real expression and effort by Abbot Klassen and this community to become part of the solution to this problem instead of being a part of it."

Anderson has represented hundreds of victims of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States in the past 20 years. Tuesday's settlement concludes all cases he represented against St. John's Abbey. Klassen said no other cases are pending, and no charges have been brought since 1992.

"There had been a secret kept for decades and for centuries," Anderson said. "It was kept here, and kept in other churches. We're really here today because about two decades ago, several young men and women had the courage to break the silence. They had the will and courage and spirit to come forward." Anderson has settled about a dozen previous cases against the abbey in the past 15 years, he said.

Klassen apologized to the victims and families who were present Tuesday. Arlene Vogel, mother of three boys abused by monks in the 1970s, greeted Klassen with a long embrace, and left by whispering in his ear, "I'll be praying for you.

"He's hurting, and he visited with us and knows how we're hurting and how the victims are hurting," she said. "He wanted to make it right. Money will not heal, but the public apologies and the personal apologies and this board are what's going to make it happen."

Her son, Allen Vogel, called it a "huge day."

"What has occurred here today raises the bar so high, the rest of the country has to look to it."


St. John's Abbey agreed to:
- Give outside panel far-reaching authority.
- Fully disclose future abuse.
- Pay victims an undisclosed amount.

Settlement creates nonclergy review board
Abbey to pay undisclosed amount to victims

By David Unze
St. Cloud (MN) Times
October 2, 2002

Collegeville - St. John's Abbey will create an external review board and pay an undisclosed amount to about a dozen victims of clergy sex abuse as part of a settlement announced Tuesday.

Victims, their attorney and abbey officials said the key to the unprecedented agreement is the abbey's willingness to accept responsibility for past abuse and to work to prevent future abuse. They hailed the review board as a model for religious orders, dioceses and churches nationwide.

The settlement covers cases that have been filed in court and others not filed.

The announcement was made in the abbey Chapter House by Abbot John Klassen and St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has become nationally known for representing clergy sex abuse victims.

[Photo Caption - Jeff Anderson (left), a St. Paul attorney who represented about a dozen survivors of clergy abuse at St. John's Abbey, details the settlement reached between the abbey and the survivors during a news conference Tuesday at the abbey Chapter House. Abbot John Klassen looks on. Kimm Anderson]

[Photo caption - Clergy abuse victims Bill Quenroe (left) and Allen Vogel (second from left) join Vogel's parents, Ray and Arlene, to listen Tuesday during a news conference on a deal between St. John's Abbey and at least a dozen survivors of abuse. Kimm Anderson]

Several victims attended the news conference and praised Klassen for ending years of inaction and insensitivity toward victims.

"It's very, very important that the things we asked for in the first place happened - the protection of our children," said Ray Vogel, a former abbey employee and father of three sons who were abused by an abbey priest serving in the Vogels' parish in the 1980s. "I do believe that Abbot John is the answer to something I have prayed for for a long time."

Tuesday's announcement isn't the end, Anderson said.

"It's a beginning, a new day," he said, "where the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy here at St. John's and across the country can work together, and for the first time, use this as a model for how we go and where we go to (help and heal victims)."

At least one accuser was still skeptical.

Bill Quenroe sued the abbey and the Rev. Dunstan Moorse earlier this year, accusing Moorse of abusing him in the 1980s. His claims against the abbey were settled with Tuesday's announcement, but his lawsuit against Moorse remains.

Moorse is one of 11 monks or priests who are restricted in their work and social activities at the abbey after Klassen received credible reports of various sexual misdeeds. Two others who have been accused of abuse are on leave from the abbey.

"It's like building an engine," Quenroe said of the review board proposal. "You can put it together, but you're not sure if it works until you try to start it."

The settlement

The victims agreed not to discuss financial terms of the settlement, and Anderson and Klassen wouldn't disclose terms either.

"What they have done on that level is fair, just and reasonable," Anderson said.

Other settlement terms include the creation of an external review board, which will consist of at least two clergy abuse survivors, two current or former law enforcement officials, one current or former judicial official, one parent of a clergy abuse survivor and one mental health professional.

A three-person subcommittee of the board will investigate any abuse claims made against abbey personnel, including monks, staff or volunteers. The accused will be placed on administrative leave immediately while the allegations are investigated.

If the accuser is a minor, vulnerable adult or receiving some form of counseling, the accusation will be reported to law enforcement, according to a policy statement released by the abbey.

The abbey also agreed to finance an annual off-site retreat in which victims and facilitators can interact. The abbey will continue funding therapy and ongoing prevention efforts, Klassen said.

"Clearly, it's a major move forward in settling these claims that have been brought," Klassen said.

The review board could be a cooperative effort with the St. Cloud Diocese, he said, or the abbey might participate in the process alone. Abuse survivors will have as much say as the abbey in picking those who will serve on the board, Klassen and Anderson said.

"I've never really done anything like this before, but I've dreamed of it," Anderson said. "Just like survivors have dreamed of it."

The process

Work on a settlement with several victims began in June, with meetings between Anderson, Klassen and abbey attorneys. The process was difficult, all said, but unique in how it evolved.

"The idea was for Jeff Anderson and the abbot to meet and explore the best way to approach the cases," said Robert Stich, abbey attorney.

What evolved during the next month was a mediation framework in which victims told their stories of abuse to two mediators, one chosen by each side. Anderson chose Minneapolis attorney Mike Ciresi, while the abbey chose the Rev. Margo Maris, an Episcopal priest from Oregon.

An intense mediation took place during four days in mid-August, and one more session was in September, Stich said. The mediations often lasted for 12 hours a day at Ciresi's law office.

It was unique because victims told their stories to mediators rather than to attorneys during a potentially confrontational deposition setting.

"It was unique, but we thought it was important to get these cases resolved," Stich said.

The abbey also abandoned its past legal strategy of seeking to dismiss claims on statute of limitations grounds. Anderson was highly critical of that state law, which he said gives far too little time for abuse survivors to file lawsuits.

"We stepped back from the statute of limitations (argument) because we didn't want to drag any survivors through a lengthy court process," Klassen said.

That was "huge," Quenroe said.

"Instead of saying they were going to take it on in court and get it thrown out, I was heard without having to go through that."

Work on the settlement began about the same time as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops settled on its policy at a meeting in Dallas. That policy requires the removal of abusive clergy from public ministry and creates boards comprised primarily of lay people to monitor how the church manages misconduct allegations. The financial portion of the settlement was a combination of insurance money in some cases and monks' salaries, Klassen said.

"It comes out of the work of our hands," he said.

The settlement closes all the cases in which Anderson represented victims and two other cases, Stich said. Since the agreement was reached in early September, one more case has surfaced, he said.

"If we would have known about (that case), we would have taken care of that then," Stich said.

To clergy victims, acknowledgment proves invaluable

By Kristin Gustafson
St. Cloud (MN) Times
October 2, 2002

Collegeville - An apology, validation and a promise to ensure sexual abuse won't happen to another child or adult. These, for many survivors of clergy sexual abuse, are far more important than financial settlement.

"That's what it was really all about ... accountability, stopping the trail of deceit, lies and cover-up, and acknowledging that this has occurred," said Allen Vogel, one of more than 12 victims and family members involved in a settlement announced Tuesday with St. John's Abbey.

Vogel said when he brought abuse allegations forward 12 years ago, a former abbot lied to him, saying no other children were abused by his accused priest. That abbot also denied Vogel a meeting with the priest, something Vogel requested for his healing process.

"They wanted me to go away," Vogel said. "But, of course, I didn't."


Finally, St. John's Abbot John Klassen did what is right, Vogel said. "He's the leader St. John's has been looking for for decades."

Klassen and Jeff Anderson, a nationally recognized attorney representing victims of clergy sexual abuse, worked for months on a settlement involving an undisclosed amount of money and a multi-layered process to address clergy sexual abuse.

Before the announcement, Anderson told victims and parents: "This is going to be a new church in terms of safety for children."

The agreement creates a model of prevention, healing, reconciliation and an external review process created by and through the survivors' community, he said.

It is a model based on an abbot's promise - but with legal teeth.

"We will sue them if they don't abide," Anderson said.

More than money

"The noncompensation piece is the most critical thing the abbey can do to address the needs of the victim," said Maxine Barnett, an advocate who works with those abused by clergy from the St. John's abbey and the diocese of St. Cloud.

Victims want to know how it happened to them and how can it not happen to someone else, she said. The abbey program that educates monastic community, employees, volunteers and students on issues related to appropriate human boundaries addresses this, she said.

Another settlement component - a retreat designed to enable victims to explore the value of ongoing, annual retreats - offers a "tremendous healing benefit" for victims, she said, providing a way to help those who need ongoing support or feel isolated.

Also, "I think the lay review board is a must," Barnett said. "It's never good for an organization to be its own monitor."

However, she said, compensation is important and necessary for victims whose lives have been shattered by clergy abuse. "It robs people of time, energy and the capacity, often, to be self-sufficient over a period of time when they are suffering trauma."

Anderson's clients all received an apology from the abuser, or from Klassen on behalf of the monk or priest, as part of the settlement. The Rev. Allen Tarlton "expressed sorrow for his role" in a letter to oblates, the Rev. Brennan Maiers apologized directly to a victim, and the Rev. Francis Hoefgen has apologized in a public letter.

David Clohessey, executive director of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said only a Los Angeles diocese settlement comes close to the "innovative and broad" approach agreed to by St. John's.

"We're excited by the outreach provisions where the abbey is obligated to reach out to a victim once there is an allegation, rather than being passive," he said. Under the terms, the abbey must send a letter to staff, students, alumni and others when it gets a substantiated abuse allegation with hopes of persuading other victims to come forward.

And, SNAP will have a voice in selecting a new oversight board - comprised of mental health professionals, abuse victims, civil law experts and others.

Clohessey said "the heroes are these men and women that have forced this institution to deal with a deeply rooted and long-standing set of criminals in its midst."

Victims react

Several survivors spoke with deference about St. John's and most of those who work there, while expressing frustration about the few men who have cast a negative shadow.

Arlene Vogel, a former abbey employee and mother of three sons who were abused by a parish priest in the 1980s, agreed. Ten years ago, she said, "we didn't know where to go to, who to talk to" when a priest didn't believe her sons were abused.

"It's never been about the money," she said.

The settlement puts an end to years of sorrow and pain, she added. "This is what we wanted, for them to believe our boys."

Her husband, Ray Vogel, said all along what he wanted was public acknowledgment and to know there won't be more children hurt.

Klassen, who turned toward victims and family members during the conference to offer his "deepest and sincerest apology," also reached out to the Vogel parents following the event.

Ray Vogel responded to Klassen saying, "We need your strength."

Bill Quenroe, who sued the abbey and one of its priests earlier this year for abuse occurring in the 1990s, said it was "unsettling" to be visibly public as a victim on Tuesday. Yet, he said, "It's the only way anybody else hears what is going on."

Quenroe said he doesn't know if he is satisfied with the settlement. "I'm still processing through the feelings I have," he said. "It feels good to be a part of this change."

Craig Martin, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse but not part of Anderson's settlement, said the lay board is a good first step. "It's what a lot of survivors have been after, including myself."

Time will tell if St. John's new reporting structures, which answers first to lay people rather than the Vatican, holds up to canon law, he said. "This is a tremendous start."

Martin said he was disappointed that some abusers did not directly apologize, having Klassen do it instead.

"If we're talking about ending the process, we need perpetrators to be honest and take that first step in the 12-step process in admitting wrong," Martin said.

Monks on restriction

According to published reports, the following St. John's Abbey monks are on restriction:
- Brother Andre Bennett,
- The Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer
- The Rev. Richard Eckroth
- The Rev. John Eidenschink
- The Rev. Thomas Gillespie
- The Rev. Francis Hoefgen
- The Rev. Brennan Maiers
- The Rev. Finian McDonald
- The Rev. Dunstan Moorse
- The Rev. Francisco Schulte
- The Rev. Allen Tarlton

These two community members are on leave from the abbey:
- Brother Isaac Connolly
- Brother John Kelly

Policy released Tuesday by St. John's Abbey

St. John's Abbey released this policy as a part of Tuesday's statement.

"The noncompensation component of the settlement, portions of which were in place prior to the settlement discussions, includes the following agreements:

1. Creation of a lay review board of at least seven members to investigate and assure full accounting for any future allegation of sexual misconduct against a member of the monastic community, the monastery's employees or its volunteers. As required by law, allegations of sexual abuse will be reported immediately to law enforcement authorities.

2. The Abbey will finance a retreat in the St. Cloud area to enable victims to explore the value of offering ongoing, annual retreats. If participants determine that annual retreats would be beneficial, the Abbey will sponsor them.

3. The Abbey will continue its policy of paying for ongoing group and individual therapy as needed by victims, and funds will be provided for spiritual direction for victims.

4. To help prevent recurrence of sexual misconduct, the Abbey will continue a comprehensive program to educate all members of the monastic community, employees, volunteers and students on issues related to appropriate human boundaries. The review board will review and approve each of these educational activities. The board will also review and make recommendations on the abbey's sexual abuse policy and its implementation on an annual basis."

Abbey promises change
St. John's apologized and said an outside board and other measures will help prevent more sexual abuse

By Pam Louwagie, Paul McEnroe, and Warren Wolfe
Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune
October 2, 2002

Collegeville - Expressing his sorrow to victims who had been sexually abused by St. John's Abbey monks, Abbot John Klassen outlined Tuesday a far-reaching settlement that ensures that new abuse allegations against monks will be reported to an outside investigative review board.

The settlement, worked out beginning in June between attorneys for the victims and abbey leaders, also guarantees that accused monks will not be allowed to work among children until the allegation is thoroughly investigated by the board, which is to be set up by next summer. Provisions to prevent further abuse and help victims heal are also included. Additionally, some victims received an apology from their abusers.

While other priest-abuse settlements around the country have included millions of dollars, this settlement appears to offer the most comprehensive nonfinancial obligations. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

In an emotional day that was filled with warmth as well as tension, Klassen greeted victims and their supporters as they walked into the abbey's church hall for an announcement they'd waited years to hear. Klassen and St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented most of the victims, stood as a united front in announcing the settlement.

The abbey apologizes

"What happened to you should not have happened," Klassen said, looking into the eyes of nearly a half-dozen abuse victims and their families who were gathered there. He said he could not find words to express his sorrow and grief.

When asked by a reporter how abuse had been allowed in previous decades, He said it was a "potent question."

"Human beings are frail and they make mistakes and they hurt others, even when they've been entrusted to not hurt," he said.

"The reason that it went on is, I think . . . the culture didn't have the right set of detectors to pick it up and to understand what was happening . . . and to make it stop."

A long struggle

Anderson, who represented between 12 and 15 of the victims and family members, called the agreement a model that should be adopted by every diocese in the country.

He credited the victims for stepping forward. "Because they did break that silence and had the will and the spirit and the courage to come forward, something very real is now happening," he said. Anderson described the victims as being "heartbroken children" at the time of their abuse and said the past decades have been "a struggle in healing, it's been a struggle in getting justice, and it's been a struggle in extracting . . . an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

"They were not believed, and we as a culture are responsible for that."

Some of the victims in the settlement had received money from the abbey years ago. But Anderson has said he pursued additional compensation because original payments fell short of what victims deserved.

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the settlement could be a model for others.

"I'm not aware of anything like that anywhere," he said.

Six requirements

The settlement included undisclosed financial payments and six contractual provisions that the abbey will have to follow.

Under the agreement:

- The abbey will send all new allegations to an outside review board that includes at least two clergy-abuse survivors, two current or former law enforcement officials, a current or former judicial official, a parent of a clergy abuse survivor and a mental health professional. The lay board will be created by June 2003 and will be ecumenical in character.

- A three-person subcommittee will promptly investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by monks or anyone associated with the abbey. If the accuser is a minor, a vulnerable adult or someone receiving counseling, the accusation immediately will be turned over to a law enforcement agency.

- Any monk or person associated with the abbey who is accused of sexual misconduct will be placed on leave immediately for at least five days while the information can be turned over to the review board. Once an investigation has determined that abuse has occurred, the alleged perpetrator's identity will be turned over to bishops, church leaders and law enforcement. Notice will then be sent to relevant communities – parishioners, students and alumni – urging additional victims to come forward.

- The abbey will finance an off-site retreat in St. Cloud for pastoral care and healing. The abbey will pay for travel and overnight accommodations for the first retreat and help develop future retreat programs.

- The abbey will pay for therapy for certain survivors of sexual abuse and their families.

The abbey will not specify which therapist can be used, and all bills will be sent directly to the abbey.

- The board will review the abbey's existing sexual abuse policy and will make recommendations annually. Education about appropriate physical contact will continue to be provided to all students, faculty and staff members and volunteers.

The abbey has identified 11 monks who are on restriction on the abbey grounds for credible evidence of sexual misconduct.

Closure for some

Allen Vogel, 36, one of the settlement victims and one of three siblings abused by monks when they were small children, said the agreement raises the bar for dioceses across the country that are struggling with priest abuse.

Vogel's mother, Arlene, hugged Klassen before his remarks. Afterward, she described a mixture of emotions. "It's been a hard struggle for the past 10 years, not being believed," she said. "This [settlement] brings things to an end for me. All those years, all that denial from the past _ now they've admitted it. They said it happened. They said our children were telling the truth."

Added her husband, Ray Vogel, his eyes tearing up: "I pray for Abbot John. There's a lot of good men there at the abbey, and Abbot John is one. I think he's doing right by people now, and I pray he has a long life, that he gets done all the things on that agreement."

Klassen already had announced this summer that the abbey would follow the national sexual-abuse policy approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, which includes immediate suspension of priests accused of molesting children and establishment of a review board to oversee handling of complaints.

Many dioceses have review boards appointed by bishops. Apparently for the first time in the church, victims of sexual abuse will be equal partners with Abbot Klassen in naming those on the lay review board.

In August, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which advises most of the men's religious orders in the United States, approved a policy that was somewhat weaker than the bishops' policy. Religious orders do not fall under the jurisdiction of bishops, although _ as in the case of St. John's _ they sometimes provide parish priests to dioceses.

The bishops' policy requires that bishops remove an offending priest from any ministry and, in most cases, to ask the pope to defrock the priest.

The Benedictine Order's policy, under which the abbey falls, permits monks found guilty of molesting children to remain as monks, but bars them from working with children or other potential abuse victims.

Clohessy said the most important part of the settlement "is that the truth of the victims' stories is being acknowledged by the abbey. The victims are getting letters of apology from the perpetrators or Abbot Klassen. And the settlement is putting in place some procedures to help protect other children from the abuse they suffered.

"What is sad, though, is that it took lawsuits and this settlement for the leaders of this abbey to do what the Bible asks of us all, to help the afflicted."

St. John’s Abbey

By Fred De Sam Lazaro
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly
October 18, 2002

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: One famous Catholic center that has tried to balance the rights of victims against the rights of accused priests is St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. As members of the Benedictine order, those there are not covered by the U.S. Bishops' rules, but are responsible to the Vatican. Fred de Sam Lazaro reports on how St. John's has responded to sex abuse complaints.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For one of Catholicism's most revered monastic communities, October first must rank as one of its most painful days -- as public as it was painful. Abbot John Klassen welcomed some of the victims who'd suffered sexual abuse in the '60s, '70s, and '80s by monks and priests.

Abbot JOHN KLASSEN: I want to tell you on behalf of the community how sorry I am for the pain you have suffered.

DE SAM LAZARO: He apologized to the group, then, with their attorney, outlined a settlement of their long-standing cases.

There was cash compensation for some. Counseling at St. John's expense would be offered to all. Members accused of abuse would be immediately suspended from active ministry pending investigation. And, in a radical departure from Church practice, a new lay oversight committee, which includes abuse survivors, will not only investigate any new allegations but make binding decisions on the fate of the alleged abusers.

JEFF ANDERSON (Plaintiff's Attorney): I have waited a long time for this day.

DE SAM LAZARO: The Benedictine monks and priests here lead both monastic and secular lives as faculty for their prep school or St. John's University and sometimes in nearby communities as parish priests. In the heavily Catholic Minnesota farm country, St. John's Abbey is a pillar institution.

MICHAEL VOGEL (Sex Abuse Victim): Anyone that wore the collar, anyone who was affiliated with St. John's -- those people were respected. They couldn't do anything wrong. They were kind of put on a different level than other people.

ARLENE VOGEL (Mother of Michael Vogel): And I think we instilled that into them when they were very little that they were right next to God, you know. And I think maybe that was probably a fault of mine and I think maybe that's why they hesitated to come to us, to tell us.

DE SAM LAZARO: What Arlene and Raymond Vogel were never told was that three of their six children were molested for years by two St. John's priests. Michael Vogel says it began for him at age 11 and lasted almost two years.

MICHAEL VOGEL: Your father and mother said, "Clergy don't sin, don't make mistakes. When they tell you something, listen. They are great examples of [the] type of person you should try and be." And that's where the confusion came in.

DE SAM LAZARO: Confusion led to problems with drug abuse, gambling, and poor grades in school. Michael Vogel says it was only after years of therapy that he was able to tell his parents.

Ms. VOGEL: We had no clue about where to go and what to do. It was just striking out. We didn't know where to go.

DE SAM LAZARO: They went to the abbey, and the response, they say, was total denial, only deepening the pain.

MICHAEL VOGEL: It was kind of a threatening resonance to that message that not only do we not believe you, but you shouldn't be taking our organization through the mud. And you have no credibility, so don't bother talking about it. And that's when there was the decision that we ought to get legal advice and we ought to take legal action.

DE SAM LAZARO: The Vogels contacted St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, a prolific plaintiff attorney in cases against Catholic dioceses nationwide. A decade of negotiations followed in theirs and about 20 other cases against the abbey, which settled some of them on the way to the new agreement.

Mr. ANDERSON: They were motivated by pressure. Pressure that the survivors have put on them publicly and in the courtroom. Second, by the realization through all this exposure that they were not doing a good job at this issue, and they needed outside help and they for the first time were willing to trust the survivors and us.

DE SAM LAZARO: Abbot John Klassen declined to appear on this program, saying it was time for St. John's to move forward -- that there'd be no more media appearances after the news conference on October 1.

In keeping with existing policy, he said 11 of the abbey's 200-odd monks are now restricted for sexual misconduct. With one exception, all accusations concern conduct prior to 1990, beyond Minnesota's statute of limitations. In any new cases, Klassen reiterated, St. John's would leave judgment to the new oversight committee.

Mr. ANDERSON: It's about power and it is the power of the Church, which they have coveted, that has kept them from dealing with what they really should be dealing with, kept them from living even their own values. And it's that secrecy and the power that they have kept that they are now beginning to give up, and acknowledge: "Hey, we've blown it. We've shown ourselves as incapable of doing it the right way; let's turn it over to people who can do it the right way." And that's a breakthrough.

DE SAM LAZARO: But it's not likely to get very far, according to one prominent attorney who has advised Church officials in sex abuse cases. Patrick Schiltz says it's the fundamental right of any religious community or diocese to run its own affairs, without interference from outsiders.

PATRICK SCHILTZ (University of St. Thomas Law School): Accountability can often mean, you run your order as I, the plaintiff's lawyer, want you to run your order. That kind of accountability I don't think we need. It bothers me as a Catholic that the Bernard Laws out there have not been held accountable. But I have the same option that every other Catholic does, which is to vote with my feet if I can no longer in good conscience support my church. That's the way you hold people accountable, the people in the Church hold them accountable.

DE SAM LAZARO: As for the St. John's agreement, though well-intentioned, [it] could deny a fair hearing before the oversight committee. He feels abuse survivors will inevitably drive the group's agenda.

Mr. SCHILTZ: Imagine, if you would, if we had a civil justice system where if you're accused of rape you're tried to a jury of rape victims. We instantly understand what's wrong with that. We can't be objective when you have that kind of personal stake in it.

DE SAM LAZARO: Under the agreement, the oversight committee is to be established by June of next year.

For their part, survivors like the Vogels say they're satisfied with the agreement but doubt [it] can ever erase their pain and guilt.

RAYMOND VOGEL (Father of Michael Vogel): I don't have difficulty with my faith, but I have lost my trust when it comes to dealing with the priests, and the sad thing for me is I feel failure toward my children simply because I never thought of them people being capable of what the God-awful people have done. I just have a very, very hard time.

MICHAEL VOGEL: All I wanted was acknowledgment, apology, and action.

DE SAM LAZARO: And despite an agreement that brings some vindication to survivors, experts say St. John's, like the Church in general, will still struggle to balance the rights of victims with those of clergymen accused of sexual misconduct.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, this is Fred De Sam Lazaro reporting.

The St. John's Solution: Shoulder Blame

By Kevin Horrigan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
December 22, 2002

In an effort to exorcise its own demons, an abbey in Minnesota may be setting a commendable example for the rest of the Roman Catholic Church.

For decades, a group of monks at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., behind the pine trees that shelter the largest Benedictine monastery in the western world, operated a sex abuse ring. Boys as young as 9 were victimized, as were teenage boys and girls. But most of the victims were novice monks - high school and college graduates who were drawn to the discipline of monastic life, which consists of prayer, study, teaching and living in a religious community of like-minded men.

In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a former monk recalled that during the 1970s, the novices would enter the dining room, and a group of older monks "would descend like vultures." The lid blew off the scandal in the 1990s, when a series of lawsuits was filed against the abbey, most of them by a lawyer in St. Paul named Jeffrey R. Anderson. The flamboyant 54-year-old Anderson has represented nearly 500 priest abuse victims since the mid-1980s, and has the hate mail on his office wall to prove it. But this year, as the Roman Catholic Church in America has been enveloped in the priest abuse scandal, as the Archdiocese of Boston teeters on bankruptcy, as hundreds of priests have been implicated and thousands of victims have come forward, something weird and beautiful has happened behind the pine trees at St. John's Abbey.

In October, the Rev. John Klassen, abbot of St. John's, and Jeff Anderson, the church's nemesis, announced that they'd reached a settlement, and not just on the dozen cases Anderson had pending. The St. John's solution offers a framework for ending the priest abuse crisis in the United States, letting victims go on with their lives, and letting the church go on with God's work.

In addition to making personal apologies to victims and paying for their counseling, Abbot Klassen agreed to put accused clergy on leave and report any new case to law enforcement officials. The abbot agreed not to hide behind either canon law or the statute of limitations. Most significantly, Klassen also agreed to set up an outside board to handle all clergy abuse cases against his monks.

The board will include two survivors of clergy abuse, two current or former law enforcement officials, a current or former judicial official, a parent of a clergy abuse survivor, and a mental health professional. The board will make decisions, and the abbey will abide by them.

In short, the abbot acknowledged that he has neither the expertise or the right to make decisions on the subject, and agreed to abide by the decisions of lay people who do. And because a religious superior like an abbot has the same authority in his realm that a bishop does in his diocese, there's nothing to stop a bishop from agreeing to the same kind of settlement in his diocese.

"I'm in negotiations with the Archdiocese of Chicago, with Cardinal (Francis) George, and with the Archdiocese of Cleveland, the Diocese of Sacramento and others," said Anderson. "We're using this as a framework for where we go from here."

Financially, Anderson said, the dioceses he works with would spend more on lawyers to defend themselves than they will under the terms of a settlement agreement - thus avoiding the possibility of multimillion dollar verdicts, ugly court cases and bankruptcies. The victims get what they want: apologies, a recognition of their suffering, and the assurance that no one else will be hurt. Anderson will lose hundreds of cases potentially worth millions, "but if I could get myself out of this business, I would do it today."

"The church is culturally and institutionally incapable of dealing with this issue," he said. "If they're ever going to address this issue comprehensively, they have to turn it over." Anderson thinks that someday, perhaps soon, some bishop somewhere will agree to the St. John's Solution. After that, others will fall in line and the healing will begin. He doesn't know who will be first, but he's pretty sure that the Archdiocese of St. Louis will be last.

Archbishop Justin Rigali has promised to "continue to deal as swiftly, forcefully and openly as we can with the issue of sexual abuse."

But Anderson said, "In our experience, working in every state and every diocese, they're the darkest and most medieval when it comes to helping and healing. They've been miserable and mean and unpastoral and hurtful; it's just 'batten down the hatches and get ready for war.' "

He whose birthday we celebrate Wednesday once said "Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." What a great Christmas present that would be.

Review board includes law enforcement, health officials

By Kristin Gustafson
St. Cloud (MN) Times
June 18, 2003

Collegeville - St. John's Abbey named eight members of its nine-person External Review Board on Tuesday.

The board's responsibilities include advising the abbey regarding how to respond compassionately and effectively to survivors of sexual abuse and to minimize the possibility of recurrence of abusive behavior.

Abbot John Klassen created the board as part of a legal settlement announced Oct. 1.

Four members selected by Klassen are: David Baraga, St. Cloud; David Farrington, Burnsville; Catherine Lally, St. Paul; and the Rev. Jonathan Licari, St. John's Abbey in Collegeville.

Four members selected by St. Paul lawyer Jeffrey Anderson, who negotiated the settlement, are: Charles Flinn, Jr., St. Cloud; Susan Fuchs-Hoeschen, Sauk Rapids; Patrick Marker, Mount Vernon, Wash.; Janet Robert, Stillwater.

The eight board members expect to select a ninth member by June 30.

The abbey provided these biographies of the board members:

David Baraga

Baraga is the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center executive director. He has been a practicing psychologist for more than 30 years, specializing in the treatment of victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. He graduated from Marquette University in 1963 and received his master's and doctorate from the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks) in clinical psychology.

In addition to his work in the area of clinical psychology, he served in the Peace Corps in Nepal, in the U.S. Foreign Service in Vietnam and as a Field Representative for CARE, Inc., in Tunis, Jerusalem and Gaza.

David Farrington

Farrington is Burnsville's chief of police.

After graduating from St. John's University in 1971 with a bachelor's in government, he joined the Burnsville Police Department as a trainee. He became a lieutenant in 1978 and captain in 1991. In 1989, he graduated from the 158th Session of the FBI National Academy. In 1992, he obtained a master's in public safety education and administration from the University of St. Thomas.

In January 1998, Farrington became Burnsville's chief of police and leads a nationally accredited 101-member police department.

He is also a member of the Police Executive Research Forum based in Washington.

Charles Flinn

Flinn is a Windom native who graduated from Yale University in 1962 with a bachelor's in history and in 1965, from the University of Minnesota Law School. He practiced law with a general practice firm in St. Paul for 15 years, and in 1980, was appointed to the bench by then Gov. Al Quie.

Re-elected several times, Flinn retired in 1992 after 22 years as district court judge. His judicial work was in all areas, but with special emphasis on family and juvenile matters.

He is married to Judge Elizabeth Hayden, who works in St. Cloud.

Susan Fuchs-Hoeschen

Fuchs-Hoeschen, a licensed independent clinical social worker, is a lifelong resident of the St. Cloud area. She is a mental health professional working in the adult mental health unit at St. Cloud Hospital and a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.

Fuchs-Hoeschen received her bachelor's in social work from St. Cloud State University in 1987 and a master's in social work from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1992.

She is a wife, mother of two daughters and works daily with survivors of sexual abuse as an advocate for justice and healing for victims, supporters and faith communities.

Catherine Lally

Lally is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 1977, received her master's in family social science from the University of Minnesota in 1990 and completed her doctoral work in family social science at the University of Minnesota in 1993.

Lally is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota, St. Mary's University and Bethel Seminary, where she has taught such courses as marriage and family therapy theory, human sexuality and child-centered family therapy.

Lally is a therapist in private practice and at Washburn Child Guidance Center. She has worked with families who have experienced intrafamilial sexual abuse, has presented workshops and lectures on multiple aspects of sexuality and has published research on sexual meaning during engagement and marriage.

Jonathan Licari

Licari, of the Order of St. Benedict, is a monk of St. John's Abbey. He was ordained for the Diocese of Duluth in 1976. After several years in parish ministry, he entered the monastery and made his first vows in 1982.

His obtained his bachelor's from St. Francis College in Fort Wayne, Ind., and his Master of Divinity from the School of Theology Seminary of St. John's University.

In 1989, Licari received his doctorate in Canon Law from St. Paul's University, Ottawa, Ontario. He taught theology and Canon Law at St. John's University and served on the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of St. Cloud. From 1989 to 1994, he served as Prior of the monastery.

He is pastor of Holy Name Parish in Medina.

Patrick Marker

Marker is a 1983 graduate of St. John's Preparatory School and a 1986 graduate of Jamestown College in North Dakota.

After teaching for nine years in the Minneapolis area, he returned to the Seattle area to work in the technology sector and is working as an Internet consultant.

Marker has been an outspoken critic of St. John's and its handling of the sexual abuse scandal that affected not only him but several of his classmates.

In 2002, he created the online Abuse Disclosure Project ( to provide information and support for victims of sexual abuse at St. John's.

Janet Robert

Robert is a longtime Stillwater resident and a member of St. Michael's Catholic Church.

She co-founded Hope House of St. Croix Valley (a foster care home for persons with AIDS) and the St. Croix Valley Christians in Action (a faith-based community service organization). She has volunteered with the St. Croix Valley Life Care Center, Tubman Family Alliance and the United Way.

In 1994, Robert was elected to the Oak Park Heights City Council and later appointed to the Washington County Corrections Advisory Committee and the Workforce Center Board.

She graduated cum laude from Notre Dame University and St. Louis University Law School. She is the founder of the Minnesota chapter of Democrats for Life and is counsel to a variety of nonprofit organizations.


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