The following statement from Saint John’s Abbey is a response to a news story (“A year after son’s suicide, parents seek change at St. John’s”) published by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) on December 18, 2015.
Statement regarding MPR News Story, 18 December 2015
Saint John’s Abbey extends its deepest sympathies to the Spanier family and holds them in our prayers as they approach the first anniversary of the death of their son Ben.
Unfortunately, the Spaniers have come to believe a story based on selective reading of circumstantial evidence, but one that is not supported by the body of documented evidence. While we understand the grief of a family as they search to explain the loss of their son, we are extremely disappointed that Minnesota Public Radio chose to ignore the volume of evidence and documents sent to the reporter that clearly rebut the thesis of the story being broadcast.
Most significantly, the Spaniers were accorded every opportunity to meet with Abbot Timothy Kelly in the 1990s and discuss their allegations. When asked directly by Abbot Kelly whether there was concern of sexual abuse, Ben Spanier and his parents stated unequivocally that no inappropriate sexual behavior was involved. In fact, documented evidence supports that Father Andert was a mentor to Ben and a personal friend to Ben’s family. That was the extent of the association.
As recently as this fall, Abbot John Klassen reached out to the Spaniers to invite them to share their concerns. Both parties agreed that it would be best to talk about the concerns face-to-face, but unfortunately, the right opportunity did not present itself.
The MPR story seems to be based on the request that Saint John’s Abbey “open up to the community about the concerns and allegations involving Andert and other priests,” as the story concludes.
Yet, that is exactly what the Abbey has done for the past 15 years or more and it is what MPR chose to ignore in its reporting. The facts are clear:
On multiple occasions, we have published lists of monks against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse involving minors. Most recently, we provided the Twin Cities law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates with the complete files of monks against whom there are credible allegations and are cooperating in their complete disclosure, a process that already has started.
There is no evidence—and a specific denial from the alleged victim, Ben Spanier—that Father Andert’s interaction with Ben was sexually abusive in any way. As noted above, Father Andert had a mentoring relationship with Ben and that association ended when Ben left school. There was no further contact beyond an incidental meeting at a funeral in the more than 20 years after Ben left the school.
Most important, there have been no incidents of sexual abuse of a minor involving a monk of Saint John’s in more than 20 years. This is the result of specific and aggressive actions, including the following:
We have implemented a rigorous process to address and investigate allegations of abuse, retaining independent investigators to examine claims and make reports to an external board for review. In addition, Saint John’s has cooperated fully with investigations and processes of law enforcement.
Those monks who have offended live under restrictive safety plans. Their actions are limited and they are supervised.
Saint John’s has enhanced the screening of men seeking to enter the monastery. Thorough assessments are part of a rigorous process of identifying appropriate candidates. Today, Saint John’s Abbey is a community of monks, including many young men, who live lives of service and leadership, creating a future for the monastery as bright as it ever has been.
All of this information was made available in detail and substantiated with documents several months ago. For all of the important reporting Madeleine Baran has done on clergy abuse, this is an instance where she and MPR have failed their audience and harmed the reputation of the Abbey and everyone associated with Saint John’s. MPR owes an apology for this story.
Statement Regarding MPR News Story, 18 December 2015
Saint John’s Abbey
18 December 2015