Clergy Sexual Abuse at Saint John’s Abbey and in the Catholic Church

Topics: BS, ISTI, Jerome Thiesen, John Klassen, LINKUP, Timothy Kelly

“Since his election as Abbot in 2000, Abbot John Klassen, OSB, has continued the Abbey’s commitment to openness and asserted his determination to assure that “no remnants of the veil of secrecy remain.” – [Webmaster’s Note: This is not true.]

The issue of clergy sexual abuse exploded on the national scene and in the national media during the decade of the 1980s. An article, The Church’s Sex-Abuse Crisis, by Peter Steinfels in the April 19 issue of Commonweal magazine offers a thoughtful overview of the problem.

Late in the 1980s Saint John’s Abbey received the first of several allegations of sexual abuse by members of the monastic community. The Abbey responded immediately to investigate all allegations and to support victims’ need for therapy. Monastic offenders underwent psychological examination and treatment according to the best professional standards of the day.

Abbot Jerome Theisen, OSB (1980-1992) led the monastic community in drafting the Abbey’s first “Sexual Abuse and Exploitation” policy. This policy, which has served as a model for other religious communities, was implemented in 1989 and revised in 1992, 1993 and 2002. The policy and other Abbey initiatives to strengthen its program for accepting and training men for the monastic life have been effective.

Shortly after Abbot Timothy Kelly (1992-2000) was elected, he took the initiative to explore what the Abbey could do to contribute to a national discussion/analysis of sexual abuse issues. In doing so, he expressed his determination to serve victims’ needs. Guided by the recommendations of a group of consultants he invited to the campus, Abbot Timothy established the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI) in 1994. The work of ISTI continues at Saint John’s under the sponsorship of the graduate school of Theology.

ISTI has hosted several conferences and workshops on the campus and nationwide, and has served as a catalyst for many books, professional papers and published articles on a variety of topics related to sexual abuse. It hosted a conference of a national victims’ organization (LINKUP) at Saint John’s in 1994. It was the first time such a conference was hosted by a Catholic institution, and it marked the first time a U.S. Bishop (Bishop Jerome Hanus of St. Cloud) apologized publicly to a group of victims.

During the 1990s Saint John’s Abbey took steps to strengthen policies for accepting and training applicants for the monastic life and for the training of candidates for the priesthood in the seminary here. The novitiate program for first-year monks already contained classes on celibacy, but the Abbey introduced an additional semester course in celibacy for junior monks in the spring of 1993, and the Seminary offered its first full course on celibacy in January, 1993. Both programs explored a variety of issues dealing with celibate sexuality and boundaries in relationships.

Frequently during his term, Abbot Timothy frankly addressed issues related to clergy sexual abuse in public forums as well as in statements to the Saint John’s monastic community. The community had several workshops about issues related to sexuality, celibacy and appropriate interpersonal boundaries.

Since his election as Abbot in 2000, Abbot John Klassen, OSB, has continued the Abbey’s commitment to openness and asserted his determination to assure that “no remnants of the veil of secrecy remain.” In May Abbot John issued a public apology on behalf of the Abbey, and in June he announced his intention to implement the directives of the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

A Time of Healing and Renewal
Overview: Clergy Sexual Abuse at Saint John’s Abbey and in the Catholic Church
April 26, 2002

Topics: BS, ISTI, Jerome Thiesen, John Klassen, LINKUP, Timothy Kelly

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