Monk at St. John's Abbey sued by men who say he sexually abused them

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
May 19, 2014

Richard Eckroth (Courtesy of Jeff Anderson & Associates)

A monk who taught at St. John's University and seminary from the 1950s to the 1970s has been sued by two Minnesota men who claim he sexually abused them at a cabin owned by St. John's Abbey.

Richard Eckroth, a member of the Benedictine Order who is also a priest, abused more than 360 of what he referred to as his "cabin kids," said Jeff Anderson, attorney for the two men who filed suit Monday in Stearns County.

Eckroth, now 87, has advanced dementia and lives at St. John's Abbey "under close monitoring," according to abbey spokesman Brother Aelred Senna.

"St. John's Abbey was made aware of these allegations against Fr. Richard Eckroth late last week," the abbey said in a written statement released Monday. "Sorting out the truth of allegations against Fr. Eckroth is complicated by his advanced dementia. ... Incidents involving Eckroth are alleged to have occurred more than 40 years ago. While there have been credible claims of inappropriate behavior by Eckroth, there has also been conflicting testimony regarding allegations against him."

The abbey, which also is a defendant in the lawsuit, said it would "cooperate to seek the truth as we have in the past."

According to the lawsuit, Eckroth taught philosophy at St. John's from 1952 through 1973. He also worked at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph in 1967 and was assigned to several central Minnesota parishes.

The plaintiffs' family belonged to St. Joseph's Parish in St. Joseph. It was there that they became acquainted with Eckroth -- who eventually invited the boys, in the early 1970s, to the Bemidji-area cabin owned by the abbey. The children were about 8 and 10 when the sexual abuse started, according to the lawsuit.

After receiving complaints about Eckroth, abbey officials transferred him to the Bahamas, where he served from 1977 to 1989, according to Anderson.

The suit was among more than 20 filed pursuant to the Child Victims Act, passed by the state Legislature in May 2013. It allows victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits during a three-year window even though the previous statute of limitations expired.

Also Monday, Anderson released the files of five other Benedictine monks accused of sexual abuse who worked in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis:

-- Thomas Gillespie, who worked in 1964-78 at St. Bernard in St. Paul and 1978-86 at St. Mary's in Stillwater; lives in Collegeville.

-- Brennan Maiers, who worked as pastor of St. Bernard in St. Paul from 1983 to 1990; lives in Collegeville.

-- Cosmas Dahlheimer, who worked at St. Bernard in St. Paul, 1973 to 1978; died in 2004.

-- Francis Hoefgen, who worked at St. Boniface in Hastings, 1985-1992; lives in Columbia Heights.

-- Robert Blumeyer, who worked at St. Boniface in Hastings in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, and St. Bartholomew in Wayzata in 1969-73; died 1983.

Blumeyer was accused by a Monticello resident who spoke Monday of his abuse by the priest at a Wayzata church.

Lloyd Van Vleet, 59, appeared at a press conference at Anderson's St. Paul office. He said his father was an alcoholic, so he latched on to Blumeyer as a trusted parent figure at St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. He was about 14; the year was 1969 or 1979, he said.

"He had a stack of naked pictures of young boys," Van Vleet said. Blumeyer would later perform oral sex on him, he said.

Van Vleet wrote a 10-page letter to the Rev. Kevin McDonough at the archdiocese in 1997, describing the abuse. He never heard back until he brought it up with officials again in 2006, he said. Van Vleet also met with officials at the abbey; it issued him a check for $100,000, he said.

Jim Accurso, spokesman for the archdiocese, noted that the archdiocese had previously made public the names and biographical details of the priests whose files Anderson released Monday.

Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North ordered the archdiocese to release files of "credibly accused" priests as a part of another lawsuit, Doe 1 v. the archdiocese, the Diocese of Winona and former priest Thomas Adamson of Rochester.

Anderson said each of four abbots in charge of St. John's from 1950 to 2000 were responsible for covering up abuses by monks. Those men were Baldwin Dworschak (1950 to 1971); John Eidenschink (1971 to 1979), Jerome Theisen (1979 to 1992) and Timothy Kelly (1992 to 2000). All four are now dead.

Anderson said St. John's should release all its files. St. John's said Monday it "has complied with all court orders it has received to produce documents."



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