Abuse Victims Feel Empowered

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
October 2, 2002

Settlement creates nonclergy review board; abbey to pay undisclosed amount to victims

By David Unze

COLLEGEVILLE - St. John's Abbey will create an external review board and pay an undisclosed amount to about a dozen victims of clergy sex abuse as part of a settlement announced Tuesday.

Victims, their attorney and abbey officials said the key to the unprecedented agreement is the abbey's willingness to accept responsibility for past abuse and to work to prevent future abuse. They hailed the review board as a model for religious orders, dioceses and churches nationwide.

The settlement covers cases that have been filed in court and others not filed.

The announcement was made in the abbey Chapter House by Abbot John Klassen and St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has become nationally known for representing clergy sex abuse victims.

Several victims attended the news conference and praised Klassen for ending years of inaction and insensitivity toward victims.

"It's very, very important that the things we asked for in the first place happened - the protection of our children," said Ray Vogel, a former abbey employee and father of three sons who were abused by an abbey priest serving in the Vogels' parish in the 1980s. "I do believe that Abbot John is the answer to something I have prayed for for a long time."

Tuesday's announcement isn't the end, Anderson said.

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"It's a beginning, a new day," he said, "where the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy here at St. John's and across the country can work together, and for the first time, use this as a model for how we go and where we go to (help and heal victims)."

At least one accuser was still skeptical.

Bill Quenroe sued the abbey and the Rev. Dunstan Moorse earlier this year, accusing Moorse of abusing him in the 1980s. His claims against the abbey were settled with Tuesday's announcement, but his lawsuit against Moorse remains.

Moorse is one of 11 monks or priests who are restricted in their work and social activities at the abbey after Klassen received credible reports of various sexual misdeeds. Two others who have been accused of abuse are on leave from the abbey.

"It's like building an engine," Quenroe said of the review board proposal. "You can put it together, but you're not sure if it works until you try to start it."

The settlement

The victims agreed not to discuss financial terms of the settlement, and Anderson and Klassen wouldn't disclose terms either.

"What they have done on that level is fair, just and reasonable," Anderson said.

Other settlement terms include the creation of an external review board, which will consist of at least two clergy abuse survivors, two current or former law enforcement officials, one current or former judicial official, one parent of a clergy abuse survivor and one mental health professional.

A three-person subcommittee of the board will investigate any abuse claims made against abbey personnel, including monks, staff or volunteers. The accused will be placed on administrative leave immediately while the allegations are investigated.

If the accuser is a minor, vulnerable adult or receiving some form of counseling, the accusation will be reported to law enforcement, according to a policy statement released by the abbey.

The abbey also agreed to finance an annual off-site retreat in which victims and facilitators can interact. The abbey will continue funding therapy and ongoing prevention efforts, Klassen said.

"Clearly, it's a major move forward in settling these claims that have been brought," Klassen said.

The review board could be a cooperative effort with the St. Cloud Diocese, he said, or the abbey might participate in the process alone. Abuse survivors will have as much say as the abbey in picking those who will serve on the board, Klassen and Anderson said.

"I've never really done anything like this before, but I've dreamed of it," Anderson said. "Just like survivors have dreamed of it."

The process

Work on a settlement with several victims began in June, with meetings between Anderson, Klassen and abbey attorneys. The process was difficult, all said, but unique in how it evolved.

"The idea was for Jeff Anderson and the abbot to meet and explore the best way to approach the cases," said Robert Stich, abbey attorney.

What evolved during the next month was a mediation framework in which victims told their stories of abuse to two mediators, one chosen by each side. Anderson chose Minneapolis attorney Mike Ciresi, while the abbey chose the Rev. Margo Maris, an Episcopal priest from Oregon.

An intense mediation took place during four days in mid-August, and one more session was in September, Stich said. The mediations often lasted for 12 hours a day at Ciresi's law office.

It was unique because victims told their stories to mediators rather than to attorneys during a potentially confrontational deposition setting.

"It was unique, but we thought it was important to get these cases resolved," Stich said.

The abbey also abandoned its past legal strategy of seeking to dismiss claims on statute of limitations grounds. Anderson was highly critical of that state law, which he said gives far too little time for abuse survivors to file lawsuits.

"We stepped back from the statute of limitations (argument) because we didn't want to drag any survivors through a lengthy court process," Klassen said.

That was "huge," Quenroe said.

"Instead of saying they were going to take it on in court and get it thrown out, I was heard without having to go through that."

Work on the settlement began about the same time as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops settled on its policy at a meeting in Dallas. That policy requires the removal of abusive clergy from public ministry and creates boards comprised primarily of lay people to monitor how the church manages misconduct allegations. The financial portion of the settlement was a combination of insurance money in some cases and monks' salaries, Klassen said.

"It comes out of the work of our hands," he said.

The settlement closes all the cases in which Anderson represented victims and two other cases, Stich said. Since the agreement was reached in early September, one more case has surfaced, he said.

"If we would have known about (that case), we would have taken care of that then," Stich said.


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