St. Paul, Collegeville priests sex abuse alleged in new lawsuits

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
September 18, 2014

Richard Eckroth and Cosmas Dahlheimer

St. John's Abbey and two clerics -- one who worked at the Church of St. Bernard in St. Paul -- were sued Thursday by men claiming they suffered sexual abuse as children.

Attorney Jeff Anderson said at a news conference that the abbey in Collegeville, Minn., and the Diocese of St. Cloud made promises to two of those men 12 years ago: All abusive clergy would be taken out of ministry and closely restricted, and new policies would be put into place. But those promises were broken, Anderson said.

John and Allen Vogel filed suit in Stearns County on Thursday against the Diocese of St. Cloud, St. Augustine's Parish and the abbey. Anderson represents them.

John Vogel, 50, of Texas claims he was abused as a child in the early 1970s by monk Richard Eckroth. His brother, Al Vogel, 48, who lives in central Minnesota, said his abuse came at the hands of the Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer in the 1970s. Al Vogel was between 5 and 8 years old when the abuse occurred, he said. John Vogel was 7 or 8 years old when molested, he said.

Two other suits were filed this week: A man listed as John Doe 40 sued the abbey and Eckroth. Another man, John Doe 39, alleged abuse by Dahlheimer at the Church of St. Bernard in St. Paul.

Eckroth, 88, who was a philosophy professor at St. John's University and Seminary, lives at the abbey. Dahlheimer died in 2004.

The Vogels' parents both worked for decades at St. John's and trusted the priests wholeheartedly, they said.

Both men claimed negligence and public nuisance.

Current Bishop Donald Kettler and Abbot John Klassen of St. John's Abbey told the St. Cloud Times editorial board in January that priests identified as abusers were being kept away from children.

"We have one priest (in St. Cloud) who has been removed from ministry completely," Kettler told the newspaper, as seen in a video clip played by Anderson. "We are constantly taking care and observing that he ... is not in any contact with any young people."

A separate lawsuit claiming public nuisance involving a priest is before a judge in Ramsey County District Court. It has disgorged thousands of documents from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Anderson said he hopes the claim will result in the same disclosure from the Diocese of St. Cloud and St. John's Abbey.

John Doe 39, who alleged abuse by Dahlheimer, spoke to the Pioneer Press on Thursday. He said Dahlheimer molested him frequently when he was a young altar boy in mid- to late 1970s. The priest would wait until he and the boy were alone in the sacristy before or after Mass, the man said. He never told anyone until high school, when a fellow St. Bernard's School student said he had heard about Dahlheimer.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is named as a defendant in the John Doe 39 lawsuit, as is the abbey. Dahlheimer was a monk and a priest.

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the archdiocese acknowledged in a statement Thursday that Dahlheimer has been accused in the Twin Cities and the Diocese of St. Cloud of abusing minors. The abbey placed restrictions on him in 2002, Cozzens said. The archdiocese posted his assignment details on its website in December 2013.

The abbey disputed the lawsuits' claims in a statement on its website.

"One lawsuit is an attempt to create new claims from incidents that the Abbey resolved with claimants a dozen or more years ago," the abbey said, referring to the Vogels' suit. "The other lawsuits (one naming Dahlheimer, the other Eckroth) echo doubtful allegations dating back to the 1970s. The Abbey has not had any opportunity to investigate or even confer with these new claimants."

It said Eckroth suffers from "severe dementia and is confined to the Abbey's supervised nursing care facility."

The abbey said it has been "conscientious and transparent in voluntarily disclosing the names of monks who may have offended, including previous disclosure of the names of the two priests cited in today's lawsuits .... There is no substantiated incident of abuse of a minor by a member of St. John's Abbey in more than two decades."

The priest Kettler spoke of to the newspaper is the Rev. James Thoennes, Anderson said.

Anderson's co-counsel, Mike Bryant, deposed Thoennes on Sept. 9 for another lawsuit. He asked the priest if his movements were restricted in any way.

Thoennes testified that he had to get permission to "leave the perimeter of St. Cloud." Otherwise, he was free to do as he pleased.

The Diocese of St. Cloud confirmed that Thoennes was restricted to "the immediate St. Cloud area." A statement on its website said he is not allowed contact with minors unless another adult is present, must meet quarterly with a monitoring committee, meet monthly with a counselor and keep a daily activity log "that is reviewed regularly."




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