The revelation that a former St. John’s abbot committed sexual abuse in the 1970s rocked the local community this week and left the monastery in a state of shock.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB revealed in an e-mail letter sent Friday to students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni that former Abbot John Eidenschink, OSB, had sexually abused a monk during his tenure as abbot.
Over the weekend the St. Cloud Times ran banner headlines with multi-story reports Saturday and Sunday, while every major broadcast television station in the Twin Cities and both major daily newspapers ran stories detailing the allegation against Eidenschink and other St. John’s monks.
The revelations combined with the intense regional media scrutiny has left the monastery reeling.
‘I feel awful when I see this stuff in the news,” said SJU President Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB. “I was real proud of Abbot John’s letter.”
According to Klassen, between 13 and 15 monks face restrictions on their activities because of allegations of sexual misconduct.
“There’s no lie in that number but it does reflect the complexity of the situation,” Klassen said. The number varies depending on how the allegations are counted. According to Klassen, at least some of the men on restriction have not been accused of physical, sexual misconduct. Klassen told the Times that along with Cosmas Dahlheimer, Richard Eckroth, Finian McDonald, Brennan Maiers, Dunstan Moorse, Allen Tarlton, Fran Hoefgen and John Kelly are under restrictions by the abbey.
In the monastery
“I think people were shocked. And deeply saddened,” Reinhart said. “There’s a feeling of betrayal, confusion. Also, a real feeling that we have to be open about this stuff.”
Reinhart described the difficulty faced by the majority of the monks in the monastery, who have led celibate lives, respecting the rights and boundaries of others.
“I recognize [Eidenschink] and the other monks who have been accused as my brothers,” Reinhart said. “It is hard to sort out my anger from the commitment which I made to stand together with them, in good times and bad, when I became a vowed member of the community.”
Other than Reinhart and Klassen, every monk approached by The Record refused to comment on the situation, saying that the revelations were too painful to discuss publicly.
Becky Cole, CSB senior, works in the Abbey’s infirmary and retirement center as a nurses’ aid. Cole, who deals with Eidenschink, Dahlheimer, and Eckroth daily, said that the atmosphere is tense, but that the monks are managing.
“I can tell that it’s tense, because people are feeling that they’re not feeling respected,” Cole said.
Cole was made aware of the allegations against Eidenschunk Tuesday, but had already known about Eckroth and Dahlheimer.
“It’s been pretty…normal,” she said. “A lot of this stuff isn’t new. They’ve had a lot of time to process the allegations.”
Cole said that working with these men has been challenging in at least one way.
“It’s a challenge to me as a Catholic…but I don’t think it’s at all hard to work with them as far as being angry or anything,” Cole said.
Around campus, future implications
The dining halls buzzed with discussion Monday afternoon as students, faculty and staff came together to discuss the weekend’s revelations.
“I think initially the news came with the reaction of some shock, probably some sadness and possibly some anger as well,” said Michael Hemmesch, SJU director of communication and unofficial spokesman for the abbey.
I think as well most of the campus community is appreciative and applauds the efforts by the abbey and specifically the abbot in terms of coming forth with the information,” he said.
Others suggested that the situation may have long-term implications for the campus.
“People might now question CSB/SIU teachings and morals from this tragic event that occurred several decades ago,” said Adam Pitz, SJU sophomore.
“Soon I will be a graduate of St. John’s and I don’t want people to look down upon the graduates that come out of this wonderful institution,” he said.
School officials, however, stated that they believed the fallout from the revelations wouldn’t affect St. Ben’s and St. John’s.
“Over the long-term I not believe the stories will have any lasting negative impact on the image of St. John’s University,” said Jon McGee, vice president for institutional research planning and communication.
“The University’s Catholic and Benedictine values and tradition are well-received and respected and we expect that to continue to be the case he said.
The admission department reported that they have received only one call from a concerned student who plans to enroll the fall, said Mary Milbert, dean of admission.
Klassen, however, indicated that the abbey faces serious financial consequences in the not too-distant future.
Though Klassen Would not disclose how much money the abbey has spent dealing with allegations sexual abuse, according the Times, the abbey paid $2,000 to one victim about two months ago.
According to Klassen, the monastery spends considerable money on the cost of caring for victims, treatment for the individual monk involved in the allegation and the loss income due to the reassignment of the monk.
“There’s no question that when I look at it and think about it, the situation has some serious financial ramifications,” he said. Klassen also said that it might affect the abbey’s ability to recruit new members.
“Our best response is be open, responsive and proactive,” he said. “Trust is something you earn.”
Klassen did not speculate as to what those ramifications would mean for St. John’s.
Both Klassen and Reinhart indicated that the abbey may soon revise its policy on sexual abuse as well.
“I would urge that as allegations against priests and clergy come forward, they would be concerned about justice and about healing the victimized,” Reinhart said.
Questions on confinement
Some have begun questioning whether the abbey has truly placed those monks who have committed sexual abuse on restriction.
Students and St. Cloud area residents have questioned why several of these men work closely with laypeople. Moorse works in the Liturgical Press, Hoefgen works as the guest master and Tarlton is the assistant guest master.
When he started working at the Liturgical Press, “Dunston spoke directly to the entire workforce at the Lit Press and told them what the situation was,” Klassen said. “He’s not in contact with vulnerable people, and everyone knows about the allegations against him.”
The boundaries of their restricted statuses have “been spelled out in the past with all of these people, but I’m in the process of reviewing it with each person,” Klassen said.
Once on restriction, a monk cannot be placed in a parish, teach at the Preparatory School or the University, work as a faculty resident or enter dorms, the McGlynn fitness center, the swimming pool or Preparatory School buildings.
They are allowed to walk around the open campus, though.
“I have not said to someone, ‘You cannot walk out to the highway,'” Klassen said.
“These people have been through treatment, they’ve learned something about themselves.”
Klassen believes that appropriate safeguards and monitoring are in place in all situations.
Reaction to St. Cloud Times
The local reaction to Klassen’s revelations has focused on the Times’ presentation of the stories as well.
Several faculty members, commenting on condition of anonymity, questioned the Times’ judgment in making its headlines the third biggest of the year, following first-day stories on the closure of Fingerhut and on the events of Sept. 11.
Others have shared more moderate views.
“I think the Times has been partly responsible what they’ve printed,” Reinhart said.
The editors of the Times said that a significant amount of editing and work went into the stories and the page design before the Saturday and Sunday editions went to press.
“It went through a heck of an editing process,” said Susan Ihne, executive editor of the Times. “We knew that was big news.”
“You don’t put a tiny headline on a package that big,” she said.
Ihne stressed that newspapers need to act carefully around issues like sexual abuse allegation against the clergy.
“If law enforcement isn’t looking into it, and the Church isn’t saying anything, you have to be very cautious of how you approach it,” she said.
-With reporting by Ryan Engelman, Katie Holloway and Adam Leonard.
Abuse in the Abbey Shocks Community
April 25, 2002