Lawsuit against Former St. John's Abbot Details Abuse Charges

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
June 8, 2011


ST. PAUL — St. John's Abbey's former abbot Timothy Kelly once was heralded as the founder of a St. John's-based institute to address clergy sexual abuse. He now is on the list of Abbey monks accused of sexual misconduct.

A New York man filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court accusing Kelly of sexually abusing the man when he was a teenage altar boy at St. Anselm's Church in the Bronx, where Kelly served as associate pastor in the late 1960s.

The lawsuit alleges the Abbey and Order of St. Benedict are negligent for the abuse it accuses Kelly of perpetrating. It claims the statute of limitations has not expired because St. John's systematically covered up abuse and the plaintiff did not discover the "fraudulent concealment" until recently.

The abuse, according to the lawsuit, happened after the boy revealed what he believed were sinful acts of a sexual nature to Kelly in the confessional.

Kelly became a monk at St. John's in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1961. He held several teaching or pastoral positions there, across the country and abroad before returning to St. John's. Kelly was abbot from 1992-2000 and died in late 2010 after being diagnosed with cancer. He was credited with cofounding Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in 1993.

The abbey issued a statement Tuesday in which it said it was "saddened and shocked" to learn of allegations of sexual abuse against Kelly. The abbey has begun an investigation of the accusation, the statement read.

Mike Ford, the St. Cloud-based attorney who represents the Order of St. Benedict, said Tuesday that the Abbey learned of the allegation against Kelly for the first time this week.

A.W. Richard Sipe, a former monk at St. John's who has worked on numerous cases of clergy sex abuse nationwide, said at a news conference Tuesday that he spoke to the man who is alleging the abuse and that there were "four to 12 other students" who were friends of the man who also had been sexually abused at St. Anselm's.

Sipe said he sent a letter to Abbot John Klassen in November informing the abbey about the allegations against Kelly involving the man who is identified in court papers as John Doe 174. Neither Sipe nor the victim heard back from the abbey, Sipe said.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents clergy sex abuse victims, questioned why Kelly's name wasn't included on a list of Abbey monks with credible allegations against them when the Abbey released such a list in March as part of a settlement of several other cases.

He challenged them to release all the names but said he was skeptical that would happen. He said it was likely that more victims will come forward and identify Kelly as a perpetrator.

Anderson, Sipe and Patrick Wall, another former St. John's monk, on Tuesday decried the "culture of secrecy" that pervades St. John's Abbey. It's a defined culture that turns a blind eye to the fact that monks are sexually active and that allowing sex can lead to the abuse of children, Sipe said.

Wall, who went on to become a canon lawyer after leaving the Abbey and who also has been involved in clergy sex abuse cases nationwide, said the lawsuit will lead to more about what happens behind the closed abbey doors.

The lawsuit means "we get to look at this culture of secrecy" and see how St. John's and its monks operated here and in the places worldwide where the monks serve, Wall said.

He described Kelly as being "completely unresponsive to complaints of sexual abuse" even though publicly he "put on a good face" as abbot.

"Privately, he didn't care," Wall said. "He honestly didn't care. That's what hurt the most."

Sipe said his experience as a consultant in the mid-1990s with ISTI ended badly when Kelly ignored sexual abuse allegations or dismissed others and then accused Sipe of trying to manipulate him.

ISTI faded into nothing and has been disbanded since 2002. Sipe said it was a "cover up" from the day it began.

After Tuesday's news conference he spoke of the "great sadness" he felt in coming back to Minnesota to discuss Kelly and the lawsuit.

"This was the most difficult trip I've ever made back to Minnesota," he said.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.


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