Abbot John Klassen, OSB, Response to St. Cloud Times Editorial


June 26, 2003 — I commend the St. Cloud Times for its thoughtful editorial, “A year later, how is the Catholic church doing?” And I welcome the invitation the Times extended to me to provide an update on my work and on life at Saint John’s Abbey over the last year.

I know I need not tell anyone what a painful year it was for me, personally, and for all of my confreres in the monastic community. Emotions ranged from shock and bewilderment to an immense embarrassment for inappropriate behavior for which we must take responsibility. Yet we know that we are not the victims, and I feel in my heart and sense among my fellow monks a deep hurt and concern for those persons who were victims. I am determined to do everything in my power to help survivors of abuse here toward healing and reconciliation.

Some suggest that we ought to turn the page, move ahead and not look back. But look back we must! Sinful things happened in our midst. It is not enough simply to acknowledge what occurred as a reminder of our flawed human nature, a reminder of our frailty and vulnerability, and move on.

As life goes on in the Abbey, as we pursue important work in many areas, I am determined that we not be tempted to strike this blemish from our collective memory. We must continue to learn from it and use that learning for our own healing, renewal and reconciliation. And as we deal with our own healing we must continue to do all we can for survivors of abuse by St. John’s monks.

From the outset of allegations I have fought against the all-too-familiar human instinct to “circle the wagons,” to assert that we would “heal ourselves.” Convinced that we cannot heal ourselves, we reached out for help to investigate and try to comprehend what had happened. We sought help in coping, in beginning a healing process within the Abbey and in shaping policies and procedures to diminish the chances for this kind of misconduct to occur again. Saint John’s Abbey has benefited from and will continue to seek the counsel and collective wisdom of persons outside our monastic community.

Aided by several external professional consultants, the monastic community has taken the initial steps in a program that we hope will achieve healing and renewal. Meeting in small-groups, members of the monastic community explored openly and honestly the impact of the revelations of the last year on individual monks as well as on the community as a whole. It was a sometimes painful, yet a rewarding experience. We will continue this process and it will include important contributions from survivors as well as offenders.

We learned much through the intensive process last August in which we settled all claims brought forward by attorney Jeffrey Anderson. It was heartening to learn that such a process can help survivors move toward healing and reconciliation. I am grateful that all participants in the settlement were guided by a good-faith determination to achieve a fair resolution of these claims. In addition to the financial settlement, the agreement included important non-compensation components that included sponsorship of an annual survivors’ retreat and appointment of an External Review Board. The first retreat occurred February 28-March 1, and the Review Board met for the first time last month.

My work as a board member with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) has just begun, but I am confident it will prove helpful to me and to Benedictine leadership nationwide. At my first meeting with the board February 16-19, I was encouraged by a strong sentiment among board members that echoed my own determination to reach out for help. The board agreed to urge CMSM institutions to ask Praesidium Services for help in shaping a comprehensive approach to all aspects of sexually abusive behavior. Praesidium, located in Arlington, Texas, has been effective in helping organizations to respond properly and promptly to survivors, in instilling appropriate boundaries and in establishing guidelines for treatment and care for offenders. Working with Praesidium, our member institutions can provide a national benchmark for a comprehensive approach to understanding the systemic nature of the sexual abuse issue.

I am humbly grateful for the encouragement and support the Abbey has received from friends and neighbors near and far. In response, I pledge to continue doing my utmost to encourage the members of this monastic community to work with renewed vigor to build on the Abbey’s significant accomplishments in areas ranging from education, research and publishing to missionary and pastoral work – always with a reverence for those we serve.

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Topics: Jeff Anderson, John Klassen, Review Board

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