(MPR) St. Paul, Minn. — A New York man says a former abbot at Minnesota’s St. John’s Abbey sexually abused him decades ago while he was a parish priest in the Bronx. The Rev. Timothy Kelly later went on to found a service organization meant to help victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in St. Paul claims Kelly, the cleric who once led one of Minnesota’s most well-known religious institutions, molested a boy at a New York City church in the 1960s.
The lawsuit against the Order of St. Benedict and St. John’s Abbey alleges that the former altar boy was abused in 1966 and 1967 by Kelly, who was then an associate pastor at St. Anselm’s Church in New York. It says the altar boy, who is not identified, was about 15 or 16 years old at the time.
And attorneys for that boy, now in his late 50s, say Kelly may have helped other clerics hide their misconduct while he was running St. John’s Abbey, a monastary near St. Cloud. Kelly left the Abbey in 2000 and died in October.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the abbey said it was “shocked and saddened” by the accusations, and would open an investigation immediately.
Richard Sipe is a psychotherapist and former priest who worked at the abbey. He said the plaintiff in the case contacted him after seeing Kelly’s obituary.
Eighteen years ago, Kelly asked Sipe to chair the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute. The institute was intended to help the church come to grips with sexual abuse by clergy.
“They set this program up that was supposed to do something,” Sipe said. “And Abbot Timothy gave a beautiful statement when we were first all together, about, first of all, he wanted to do something with the monastery if there was any problem there. And as the months went on and the years went on, it was cover up, cover up, cover up.”
Sipe, who now lives in La Jolla, Calif., spoke at a press conference called by St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has spent decades suing the Catholic Church over sexual abuse by priests. Anderson has won millions in damages in court.
Anderson called on the abbey to disclose any information it has on other potential victims. Kelly wasn’t among 17 clerics acknowledged to have been credibly accused of abuse in a letter from St. John’s in March.
Kelly, a native of Milwaukee, joined the noviate at St. John’s in 1954 and rose through the ranks. He was sent out to serve as a parish priest, and returned to be a college professor, a novice master, and rector of the seminary. He was elected abbot by the monks of St. John’s in 1992.
Patrick Wall, a monk at St. John’s during Kelly’s tenure who has since left the priesthood, said the abbey was reluctant to confront what was known as “monk’s disease,” despite promises to address sexual abuse.
“We now have the chance to see the culture of secrecy at St. John’s,” Wall said. “That this is part of monastic history. That this is an expression of monk’s disease, and it’s time for all the other kids that were abused by Father Timothy to come forward.”
Wall said it’s time for the abbey to come forward with all the names of all the people, both in the written record and in oral history, that they know about.
Kelly is the second former abbot to be accused of sexual abuse. Abbot John Eidenschink served from 1971 to 1979, and was named in the list of potential abusers released by the abbey earlier this year.
Former St. John’s abbot accused of molesting NY teen in ’60s
by Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
June 7, 2011