St. John's Abbey/prep Clergy Abuse Settlement Hits Snag

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
March 29, 2011

[with video]

Jeff Anderson (left) talks Monday about a settlement of lawsuits against St. John’s Abbey, which later appeared to be in doubt. Plaintiff Jeramiah “Jerry” McCarthy (right) looks on.

ST. PAUL — A key provision of a deal to settle nine of the 12 pending lawsuits against St. John's Abbey, St. John's Prep School and 10 clergy members accused of sexual misconduct was in dispute late Monday.

The settlement announced earlier in the day in St. Paul was cast into confusion just hours later when the sides disagreed about how to distribute a letter signed by Abbot John Klassen and two abuse survivors. The letter names 17 current or former St. John's community members who have had what the abbey and survivor attorney Jeff Anderson agree are "credible allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation or misconduct brought against them" while they worked in one of the apostolates of St. John's Abbey or before that.

At the news conference to announce the settlement, Anderson stood by survivor Jeramiah "Jerry" McCarthy and detailed the terms of the agreement. Among several was the letter, which would be distributed to everyone who attended Prep, whether they graduated or not, Anderson told reporters.

Abbey attorney Mike Ford in an interview later Monday afternoon said that such a condition wasn't in the final agreement. The agreement called for the letter to be posted on the abbey's website, rather than be mailed to everyone who attended Prep, Ford said.

Klassen hasn't yet signed the letter, Ford said, and will when he returns to town.

Anderson said the clause about mailing Klassen's letter to everyone who attended Prep was in the final draft of the settlement. It was approved at a meeting that Klassen attended, he said, and the clause was removed from the draft right before the final version was sent to Anderson's office.

Ford said he disputed that account.

Anderson took the blame for not catching the discrepancy, saying others in his office do the final document proofing.

It was unclear late Monday how much of an impact the mailing confusion could have on the entire settlement.

Anderson requested Monday evening that the language be put back into the agreement, he said.

When asked whether Anderson was right, that the language belonged back in the agreement, Ford said, "No."

The disagreement about the letter came after McCarthy spoke about the importance of reaching everyone who interacted with the men at the Prep School, to let others know there's help available and that they're not alone.

He hadn't told anyone about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Rev. Bruce Wollmering until more than 35 years after it happened. It was an isolated incident in which Wollmering "attacked me in his room," McCarthy said.

He had been sent to Wollmering's room for counseling.

Other settlement terms include the Order of St. Benedict releasing survivors from any confidentiality agreements they had signed with the order. That presumably would free any survivor to disclose the complete terms of any settlement with the order.

Anderson acknowledged that he was able to say how much money the victims received, but he wasn't going to.

"The nonmonetary stuff is the only thing that counts as far as I'm concerned," McCarthy said. "The financial amount that I got wasn't worth it, to me in my mind, what I went through."

What's important to him, and to other survivors, is to make sure the names are made public and stop any abuse in the future, he said.

Another condition of the settlement is that all Abbey members working on outside assignments, with minors or in an Abbey leadership position, sign an acknowledgment that they received the abbey's policy on sexual abuse and exploitation and a "background questionnaire concerning sexual abuse."

Another condition covers notifying any parishes where an order member served who had credible allegations against him. A special parish meeting is required if the order member's allegation happened in that parish.

Four of the 17 men named Monday have died; three aren't at St. John's and the others live with "the constraints of a safety plan and supervision," according to the letter at the center of the confusion.

Anderson said he believed St. John's Abbey knows of more men at the abbey who have had credible sexual misconduct allegations made against them.

"I don't think this is all of the names, but this is the list of the names that they have agreed to identify in this settlement as people they are willing to call 'credibly accused,' " Anderson said. "My concern and alarm remains, and that's why there are still cases remaining and so much work to do yet."

The abbey doesn't know of any other members with credible allegations against them other than the list released Monday, Ford said.

He encouraged anyone to come forward if they have that information.

"If Jeff Anderson, or anybody, knows of a monk that's offended, bring it to us," Ford said. And he stressed that the safety plan and supervision maintain some oversight over the credibly accused rather than kicking them out of the community.


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