Last June I pledged to you to do all in my power to lead Saint John’s monastic community through a period of healing and reconciliation, and all 183 of our confreres joined me in that pledge. Because you are an important and valued member of Saint John’s extended family, it is important to me and Fr. Gordon Tavis to keep you posted from time to time on our progress.
It has been a devastating, painful, yet cleansing experience for all of us at Saint John’s as we were shaken by revelations of inappropriate behavior by a few monks. Sadly, we know our alumni and friends shared the shock, pain and embarrassment, and we are sorry.
We have focused much attention during the last few months to accept responsibility for what occurred; to reach out with pastoral and other assistance to survivors of abuse; and to work our way through a process of grieving, reconciliation and renewal.
Much of the groundwork for our work today was laid by Abbots Jerome Theisen and Timothy Kelly long before I became Abbot. They set in place a successful process to provide for assistance to victims of abuse, treatment for offenders and extensive education on related issues for all of our monks. As Formation Director during some of that time, I helped implement the changes and I can testify to their effectiveness. To my knowledge, not a single additional monk has offended since our monastic formation process was changed by the new policies and procedures.
The Abbey has had success responding to victims’ concerns. Last June attorney Jeffrey Anderson accepted our invitation to join in a mediation process to settle all of his firm’s cases alleging abuse without going through a judicial process that might be lengthy, uncertain, traumatic and more costly for survivors and for the Abbey. Assisted by mediators Margo Maris and Michael Ciresi, we met August 12-15 and reached a settlement that included compensation and non-compensation components. Mr. Anderson joined me in a press conference October 1 in the Abbey Chapter House to announce the settlement. I am grateful to Mr. Anderson for his assistance during the mediation process, and I was pleased by his public praise for the Abbey’s role in achieving a settlement that was agreeable to everyone involved.
The non-compensation elements of the agreement included appointing an external Review Board to hear any future allegations; Abbey funding of retreats or symposia for survivors; and continuing education about appropriate human boundaries for everyone at Saint John’s.
Soon the Abbey will announce membership on a nine-member external board, and representatives of all of our apostolates are continuing to refine educational programs to help prevent abuse. The panel will be an important addition to the Abbey’s procedures for responding immediately to any future allegations. (Please join me in praying that our policies remain so effective that the Review Board will never be needed.)
The first retreat for survivors occurred February 28-March 1 in Minneapolis, and the gathering included members of major national and state organizations for survivors of abuse. At Saint John’s representatives of all of our apostolates are continuing to refine educational programs to help prevent abuse.
Some allegations of abuse remain unresolved with another law firm. The charges, which do not involve the Prep School, allege abuse early in the 1970s. I have met with all who say they were abused and we are committed to investigating the charges and reaching an agreeable settlement.
Guided by the excellent work begun years ago by Abbots Jerome and Timothy, I am continuing to concentrate on the Abbey’s procedures for assessing candidates and providing a monastic formation process that explores attitudes and skills necessary for the commitment to celibacy that is essential in the monastic way of life.
Last fall, with the help of excellent external resource persons, the monastic community began a long-term process of healing, reconciliation and renewal. I have a growing confidence that it will lead to a deeper sense of community and Gospel integrity.
In closing, I assure you that this monastic community holds fast to the teaching of the Church and to St. Benedict’s Rule. Occasionally during the last year it has seemed that we were experiencing a cleansing by media fire, and I am convinced cleansing has occurred. In the midst of the pain I could see that the amazing strength of Saint John’s Abbey endures in the dedicated, charitable mentors and friends you know and remember. As I renew my commitment to healing and reconciliation, I want to add my pledge to encourage and support these good men in their important work.
Saint John’s good name has been tarnished and the blemish will not go away, but with the grace of God we can grow stronger for the experience. I ask for your friendship, prayers, support, understanding and, yes, forgiveness, as we strive to strengthen the Abbey’s many contributions to a better world in this new millennium.