Attorney: St. John's Abbey Abuse Suits Settled

Catholic News Service
March 29, 2011

Nine men who filed lawsuits claiming sexual abuse at the hands of monks or priests have reached settlements with St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, the plaintiffs' attorney said Monday.

The accused clergy all taught at St. John's Preparatory School or were assigned to parishes, attorney Jeff Anderson said. He declined to disclose a dollar amount.

The alleged abuse occurred from the 1960s to 2004, Anderson said. At least one of the alleged offenders is now dead.

The settlement requires St. John's to send a letter to anyone who attended the prep school, disclosing the names of alleged offenders against minors, Anderson said.

Anderson distributed a draft of the letter, which names 17 priests and brothers, to reporters on Monday. Anderson said he expects Abbot John Klassen, who heads the monastery, to sign the letter according to the terms of the settlement.

None of the men accused in the lawsuits still works at the school and none has ever been criminally prosecuted, Anderson said.

It also frees other people who filed other lawsuits to talk publically, lifting gag orders imposed in previous settlements, he said. Under the settlement, the alleged abusers can also be named.

Anderson has filed thousands of lawsuits alleging sex abuse by priests. He calls the settlement "another step forward to protecting others and requiring St. John's to come clean and transparent with the crimes of the past so those don't occur in the future."

Anderson praised the plaintiffs for coming forward with their stories.

"Out of your trauma, and out of your horror, and out of your shame and out of your fear ... there is some triumph in knowing that at least others can be better protected," Anderson said at a news conference.

One of the plaintiffs, Jerry McCarthy, 55, sued St. John's Prep and St. John's Abbey in December 2009 for fraud. McCarthy, who was a student at St. John's Prep, accused the school and abbey of concealing allegations against the Rev. Bruce Wollmering. The lawsuit accused Wollmering, who counseled students at the school, of abusing McCarthy in 1971, when McCarthy was 15. Wollmering died in February 2009.

McCarthy, who now lives in Wisconsin, said he hopes the settlement encourages other abuse victims to come forward and get help.

"I just hope that it does stop," McCarthy said. "The more people that come forward, the more light shone on the issue, I believe will help stop further abuse."

The Order of St. Benedict operates the prep school and abbey at St. John's University in Collegeville, near St. Cloud in central Minnesota.

A spokesman for the abbey declined to comment until after Anderson's news conference Monday afternoon.

In 2002, St. John's Abbey pledged to seek out and offer help to any future victims by its priests and monks under a legal settlement that resolved about a dozen claims, some of them decades old. That settlement included the establishment of an independent board of lay people to consider future accusations against St. John's.


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