COLLEGEVILLE – Stearns County Sheriff Jim Kostreba has asked St. John’s Abbot John Klassen to list the whereabouts from 1970 to 1990 of 13 Benedictine monks and priests accused of sexual misdeeds.
The list was requested after Kostreba received new information last week about possible crimes committed by abbey monks. Klassen agreed to provide the information, a move that Kostreba termed a new spirit of cooperation from the abbey.
Some of the information Kostreba received to prompt the request was about possible sexual abuse.
“Obviously everybody knows there are some people on restrictions at St. John’s because of possible sex offenses, some involving children,” Kostreba said. “If we have a case involving missing people and homicides involving kids, it would make sense to gather as much information as we can.”
The sheriff said late Tuesday that it was too early to draw any link between St. John’s and the unsolved 1974 homicides of Mary and Susanne Reker and the 1989 disappearance of St. Joseph boy Jacob Wetterling.
The men on restrictions include 13 monks, 11 of whom have admitted to some form of sexual indiscretion. Two monks have not admitted the accusations against them, including the Rev. Richard Eckroth, a former parish priest who in the 1970s took dozens of girls and boys, including the Reker girls, to a lake cabin near Cass Lake.
The Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer has similarly denied sex-abuse allegations, but Klassen concluded he is guilty based on corroborating evidence. Klassen has not reached the same conclusion with Eckroth, he said Tuesday. “Part of the difficulty here is there are a lot of people involved, and I’m trying to think about how to do this more quickly,” Klassen said. “I’m thinking about working with a professional investigator, someone who has the skills to do this work.”
The Reker family met with Kostreba and Klassen separately late last week to discuss their beliefs that Eckroth abused numerous children at the Swenson Lake cabin. They hope other victims will come forward so that Klassen and law enforcement have as much accurate information as possible about what really happened at the St. John’s-owned cabin in Beltrami County.
“We have no doubt that something happened up there,” said Fred Reker, who retired after working for more than three decades at the Liturgical Press at St. John’s. Said his wife, Rita: “One of the reasons we’re involved is to give some credibility to what the other victims are saying.”
Klassen said in recent weeks that he has received more abuse allegations against Eckroth by former child visitors to the Swenson Lake cabin. The allegations came after Klassen first publicly acknowledged abuse by former Abbot John Eidenshinck and others.
Klassen said he’s walking a “very fine line” between listening compassionately to those who come forward with allegations and information about Eckroth and “being fair to Father Richard.”
Kostreba’s investigators are going to check out some “information, not leads” that his department has received, he said.
“We have received some information we want to check out. We don’t know if it’s new leads, but we’ll see,” Kostreba said. “We have no information linking Father Eckroth to any crimes in Stearns County.”
Eckroth was polygraphed in the early 1990s on the Reker killings and passed the polygraph, Kostreba said. While not naming Eckroth or any other priests specifically, Kostreba did say his investigators want to talk to some members of the Abbey.
“The abbot is working with us,” Kostreba said. “When we have questions, he provides us answers.” That’s a change from the past, said Kostreba and Patty Wetterling, whose son Jacob was abducted in 1989 on a St. Joseph road near their home.
“I’m happy they’re cooperating with law enforcement, and that is new,” Wetterling said. “People are now listening, and that’s different from the past.”
Nothing has changed in terms of cooperating with law enforcement, Klassen said. “We have (cooperated) in the past and we’re continuing to,” Klassen said.
In gathering information about the 13 monks, Klassen discovered Eckroth spent 15 years doing missionary work in the Bahamas, from 1978 until 1994, after the years when he took St. Cloud – area children to Swenson Lake. Some of those cabin children have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Eckroth.
Eckroth worked in Andros, Bimini, and Nassau, Bahamas, where the Benedictines’ missionary work includes work with preparatory school children and others.
“We have to pay attention to the situation,” Klassen said.
Of the 13 whose work records were requested by Stearns County investigators, nine names have become public through civil cases: the Revs. Dunstan Moorse, Brennan Maiers, John Kelly, Finian McDonald, Allen Tarlton, Fran Hoefgen, Eckroth, Dahlheimer and former Abbot John Eidenschink.
While Klassen said he is not committed to allowing law enforcement to see the men’s personnel files, he said: “If they (law enforcement) ask for information, I share it.”
“The monastery wants to support due process in terms of an investigation and getting to the truth of a situation,” Klassen said. One or two of the men are pedophiles, Klassen said. The others have offended against older people – teen-agers or young adults. The difference is significant in terms of treatment and types of restrictions necessary, he said. Some have restrictions on the ministry they can do – not allowing the men to work in parishes, school situations or teaching – and some are restricted from environments where casual encounters might increase the opportunity for offending such as residence halls or athletic facilities.
All but three of the 13 men are in what Klassen called “serious recovery programs.” The three – who are not Eckroth, Dahlheimer and Eidenschink – live in the retirement home.
Klassen would not provide names of four of the 13 men whose names are not already public record. He said none have abuse allegations against them. Two were caught using Internet pornography, Klassen said, and “there was not evidence to say they were offenders.” The other two cases “in no way” dealt with any offense involving another person, Klassen said, though he would not provide the cause for placing them on restriction.
11 of 13 accused admit to abuse allegations
Eleven of 13 St. John’s Abbey monks facing restrictions on their work activities and campus movements have admitted to allegations of sexual impropriety, said Abbot John Klassen.
The two who haven’t are the Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer and the Rev. Richard Eckroth. Klassen has said he believes Dahlheimer did commit the abuse alleged against him after receiving corroborating evidence from separate sources. Klassen hasn’t said the same for Eckroth.
Klassen has named seven of the 11 monks who have admitted abuse allegations. They are Dunstan Moorse, Brennan Maiers, former Abbot John Eidenschink, John Kelly, Finian McDonald, Allen Tarlton and Fran Hoefgen.
Of the four not named, two are accused of using Internet pornography, an act that was detected by computer filters in the Abbey. Klassen wouldn’t reveal what the other two men did, but assured the public that they weren’t guilty of any offense against another person.
Abbot to Give Sheriff List
New information prompts request on monks’ whereabouts during 20 years
Wednesday, May 8, 2002 – St. Cloud Times
By Kristin Gustafson and David Unze
Times staff writers