Abbey Agrees to Mail Letter at Abuse Victims" Request

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
April 1, 2011

St. John’s Abbey and survivors of sexual misconduct said to be perpetrated by current and former abbey members reached an agreement Friday about the distribution of a letter signed by two survivors and Abbot John Klassen.

The letter, and getting it to former St. John’s Prep School students, was a key part of a settlement announced Monday that ended nine of the 12 legal actions involving the abbey. But confusion developed soon after the settlement was announced about how to distribute the letter, which names 17 current or former abbey members who have credible allegations against them of sexual misconduct.

The agreement announced Friday calls for the abbey to send the letter to anyone who attended St. John’s Prep and whose current address is on file with the alumni office. The letter also will be posted on the abbey’s website.

The attorney for the survivors, Jeff Anderson, said the requirement to mail the letter to former Prep students was part of negotiations to settle the lawsuit and that he was surprised when he learned that it wasn’t included in the final settlement documents.

He also took responsibility for not catching the omission before the settlement documents were signed.

“There was never any disagreement as to the basic terms of the settlement, but there may have been some miscommunication about the mechanics of implementing the terms of the settlement,” the joint statement read.

The letter will reach only a “fraction of the people who might benefit from its message,” said Patrick Marker, a survivor and advocate for other abuse victims.

“A concerted effort must be made to reach the hundreds of students who left St. John’s Prep School and have chosen, for whatever reason, to no longer associate with the institution,” Marker said.

In a best-case scenario, a similar letter would be sent to all university alumni as well as “the hundreds of good men who left the monastery,” Marker said.

Another condition of the settlement is releasing survivors from any confidentiality agreements they signed as a condition of settling previous legal claims.

That’s important for survivors, Anderson said, but not so they can discuss specifics of their settlements with media.

It allows them to tell family, friends and even co-workers about a secret they’ve had to keep, he said. Keeping that secret can create a re-victimization, he said, that causes the survivor “deep distress and causes them to suffer in silence.”

He didn’t know how many such confidentiality agreements there were with the Order of St. Benedict, he said.

“I’ve seen too many to remember or to have counted,” he said, “but enough to know I’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg.”

Four of the 17 men identified in the letter are deceased and three have left the abbey community.

The other 10 live with the constraints of a safety plan and supervision.

The safety plans were created after the Conference of Major Superiors of Men voted in 2002 to establish standards for the prevention of sexual abuse, the response to allegations and the treatment and supervision of those who have committed abuse.

St. John’s Abbey completed an on-site accreditation in 2008 that included a review of all allegations of abuse and how they were dealt with since June 2002.

The reviewers from Praesidium Religious Services met with each monk on a safety plan, the monk’s supervisor and members of the abbey’s independent external Review Board.

St. John’s Abbey was accredited by Praesidium Religious Services as being in full compliance with the benchmarks adopted by Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

Monks living with a safety plan do so voluntarily as a condition of remaining a monk of the abbey.

Conditions of the safety plan include:

An ordained monk who has sexually abused a minor cannot officiate at Mass or any sacrament in public. He may not preach, teach, or associate with students, staff or parishioners in a ministerial relationship. The restriction on ministry also applies to nonordained monks.

Monks with a safety plan may not have social relationships or individual contact with vulnerable people of any age on the St. John’s campus or off-campus, in any setting.

Monks who are living with a safety plan are generally free to move about campus with the exception of the Prep School buildings, college residence halls or swimming pool-fitness center. They are free to use the library, the bookstore and to walk the roads and byways on campus.

Monks with a safety plan are generally allowed unescorted trips off campus, provided they inform their supervisor of their destination and return time. The supervisor has the authority to deny such a request. A monk with a safety plan could visit family or friends away from the campus, go for a medical appointment or conduct other business. Monks with a safety plan are allowed to eat with friends or family members in the student dining room.

Other terms of the settlement announced Monday included:

Increased notification to parishes where a monk who has credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him served.

A requirement that all members of the abbey who are working on outside assignments or with minors or in an abbey leadership position sign an acknowledgment that they’ve received the abbey policy on sexual abuse and a background questionnaire concerning sexual abuse.

Financial compensation to the victims involved in the lawsuits that were settled.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.