This statement from Michael Ford will undoubtedly stay on the St. John’s abbey web site longer than the abbey’s deceptive statement regarding Francisco Schulte [ View ], which has disappeared from the abbey’s web site. A statement from last December [ View ], however, remains. The abbey has yet to make a public statement regarding Jim Phillips, their cover up of his crimes [ View ] , and his relationships with multiple women around the state – or the danger that these women’s children and grandchildren faced. The abbey most certainly will not publicly address the lies that Jim Phillips told the abbot and the members of his community. ]
Counsel’s statement on legal status of accused monks:
I have been serving as legal counsel for the Order of Saint Benedict since the 1990s.
A recent news feature aired on a Twin Cities television outlet [ View ] revealed confusion or misunderstanding regarding Saint John’s Abbey’s program to deal with its members who have faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct. As the program has evolved since its inception in 1992, a variety of words have been used to describe the status of monks charged with misconduct. The words have included “supervision,” “restriction,” and “safety plan,” and all refer to the same individual, voluntary agreements entered into by the Abbey and accused monks who have chosen to continue as members of the monastic community.
Because of the confusion resulting from the use of different labels – both inside the Abbey and in the broader community – the Abbey has decided to use the single phrase, “individual safety plan,” henceforth to describe the agreement between credibly accused monks and their monastic community/ abbey. The Abbey has also published a clarifying description of the meaning of “safety plan” (listed in statement below). [ View ] Although the safety plans include strict, ongoing accountability, they are not tantamount to house arrest.
The individual safety plans are significantly more rigid than the legal restrictions included in Minnesota State law for those who have been convicted of a crime, “served their time” and have completed probation. There are no restrictions for such persons under Minnesota criminal law.
There is also confusion about the legal status of monks with individual safety plans. No accused monk at Saint John’s Abbey has been charged with or convicted of a criminal act. Although each offender has been barred by the Abbey from serving as ministers of the Church, legally each retains all of the rights and privileges of any citizen.
If an individual monk were to choose to leave the monastery there is no federal or state law that could interfere with his decision to do so and to then move freely anywhere in the broader community with the full legal status of a U.S. citizen.
Canon law of the Catholic Church would continue to impose a permanent restriction on such an individual’s ability to serve in any ministerial capacity.