Abbot addresses community, abuse cases

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Abbot John Klassen broke the silence Wednesday and apologized for not publicly addressing the St. John’s community sooner.

Klassen held two listening sessions regarding recent media coverage surrounding the settlement between the Abbey and attorney Jeff Anderson on nine cases of sex abuse involving Abbey monks.

The session was open to faculty, staff and students, though students were not officially notified about the event by the Abbot’s office.

Many students felt the talk was necessary but didn’t adequately clarify the situation and others wonder where to look for timely, accurate information.

Finding Information

Klassen assured the list of accused monks and the letter of apology would be posted on the Abbey’s website and said several of the cases involved individuals who wanted the cases to remain confidential, which is why not all cases are made public.

One audience member asked Klassen to address the website Behind the Pine Curtain, run by Patrick Marker, as many think this is the only source to find information regarding pending cases.

“It’s a real thorn in our sides because the person who runs that has one agenda and that is to run St. John’s into the ground,” Klassen said. “There is no ethical filter at all, period. Everything on there can’t be proved, can’t be disproved.”

First-year Gabriela Galeano, an international student from El Salvador, knew almost nothing about the sex abuse cases before coming to school at CSB/SJU.

“From my point of view, not from the United States, learning about all of this is pretty scary,” Galeano said. “If they would approach us instead of me just going to the website (Behind the Pine Curtain) which is shocking and scary, and being so far from home, it is frightening.”

First-year Renee Paul agreed, and wished Klassen had covered more in the talk.

“I thought it was good, but I think there are still a lot of things that need more detailed information,” Paul said. “Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about this, not that it would have deterred me from coming, but I would have liked to know.”

Explaining the disconnect

Prior to the session, Klassen failed to comment about the settlement and avoided contact with the media. Klassen first addressed the community in an e-mail sent Tuesday articulating his reasoning for keeping quiet and apologizing for the delay.

“It was difficult to communicate with the campus because right in the middle of that (settlement), we became aware of a glitch in the understanding we had with Jeffrey Anderson,” Klassen said. “If we said anything in terms of what we thought it meant, it would add to the confusion, so we said ‘no comment.’ I believe I erred in not communicating with the campuses on the following Monday, though, when we did clear things up with Anderson.”

Klassen and others at the Abbey were also surprised by the extent of coverage that resulted from Anderson’s press conference March 28.

“There was a lot of recognition by the media and that was a surprise to us because essentially we had been doing what we were doing (in previous years),” Klassen said.

After Klassen spoke, he opened up the session for questions. Much of the concern involved those of the 17 monks named in the case who remain on campus. Klassen assured the monks function under a “safety plan” that restricts them from access to areas of campus like the dormitories, fitness center, pool and St. John’s Prep. School and prevents them from teaching.

“We have an external professional evaluator to assess the level of risk that someone will re-offend,” Klassen said. “Each of the monks living with us is at the lowest possible risk of re-offense and on a campus like this, that has to be true.”

None of the accused monks living on campus have re-offended, Klassen said, and he credits this to the supportive St. John’s community.

“We have been very fortunate and it is a testimony of the individuals involved that we have not had a re-offense,” Klassen said. “I have a lot of confidence in the monks and the community.”

Supporting the accused

One audience member wondered how accused monks would be punished, to which Klassen replied their removal from teaching and restrictions were punishment enough.

“There are consequences for inappropriateness and they are spelled out and enforced,” Klassen said. They have lost everything they had wanted to do.”

Klassen also defended the Abbey’s decision to embrace accused monks when the most common policy since 2002 has been, “one strike and they are out,” Klassen said.

The Abbey chose to remain welcoming to accused monks because it would go against the Benedictine values to turn them away.

“They’re our guys; they are members of our community. We made the decision at that point that we would pursue a different path,” Klassen said. “The larger community would ultimately be safer because we offer support and guidance.”

The Abbey reached a settlement on nine cases, but three cases filed by Anderson remain unresolved, though he reminded audience members that no new misconduct has occurred and the cases involve accusations between 1962 and 1986.

“It is my profound hope that we will soon resolve the remaining three,” Klassen said.

SJU President Fr. Bob Koopmann thought the address was very affective, as similar sessions in the past have been.

“We did so much of this in past years and I think the Abbey forgot the students keep changing and we needed to alert people again,” Koopmann said. “I’m pleased with the number of people and especially students who came.”

This article can be found… Here

Abbot addresses community, abuse cases
By Kira Garrett
The Record
Posted on Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm

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Topics: Jeff Anderson, John Klassen, Pat Marker, Robert Koopmann, Settlement Information

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