I debated writing anything for weeks, because of not wanting to join one “side” — what was always best about ISTI was the intention to include all voices — but having perused your website pretty thoroughly, I don’t find anything hysterical or dishonest there, just simple open fact and truth-telling. And again, despite the abbey’s stated intentions to be open and inclusive, they always, under pressure, seem to choose self-protection over full disclosure. So, despite what the abbey thinks, I decided that not speaking up is also joining one side — the side that is perpetuating the conditions of abuse.
Web Site Feedback
October 20, 2010
Dear Mr. Marker,
I am writing to thank you for publishing the website BehindthePineCurtain.com. The information posted there has been immensely helpful to me in making sense of my interactions with the St. John’s monastic community.
I served on the board of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute at St. John’s from about 1996 to 2002. At the time I was a licensed psychologist in private practice, with experience in working with victims of sexual abuse. I would not say I was naïve at the time I joined the ISTI board, but I certainly was an idealistic young professional, eager to respond in a positive and helpful way to what I took for a sincere, even commendably honest, request for help from St. John’s in dealing with sexual misconduct issues.
In my capacity as a member of the board, I wrote articles and pamphlets, helped in planning conferences, and taught a class in the School of Theology. I also spent a great deal of time on retreat at the monastery, and sought spiritual direction from Abbot Timothy Kelly. I considered that I had a good, close professional friendship with Fr. Roman Paur, and enjoyed conversations with several other monks.
During the years I was intensely involved with the ISTI board and the St. John’s monastic community, I was aware that St. John’s had a history of misbehaving monks, but was never given more information than that. I had no idea, for instance, that Fran Hoefgen, the friendly Guestmaster who arranged for my multiple retreat stays, was one of the offenders, until he was suddenly removed from that post. Timothy and Roman went out of their way to imply (and at times directly state) that the problem at St. John’s was long since over, and that our job on the board was to offer help to other communities of faith, since St. John’s had learned so much about the issues. At one board meeting (I think in 1996 or ‘97), Abbot Timothy reacted in great anger when a board member suggested that abuse at St. John’s might not be a thing of the past: “We have trained our community, I know of no current cases, and I really don’t know what else we could possibly do.” From reading your website, I now realize that this was very close to the time that Richard Sipe brought Timothy evidence about inappropriate behavior on the part of the monk who, I understand, is currently the prior at St. John’s. [ View ] In other words, Timothy’s anger was defensive, not righteous, and his claim about “no current cases” was denial, not fact.
Despite having no access to the relevant information, despite my sincere desire to work with the monks and believe in their good intentions, I came to realize over my years on the board that the monastic community was not interested in dealing with the real issues at the heart of the crisis: gender, power, sexual orientation, sexuality and spirituality. I observed that many monks have a wonderful talent for speaking wise and deep and brave words and somehow managing to avoid living out the implications of what they say. As my suggestions for directions that ISTI needed to take were more and more dismissed and ignored, I trusted my intuition, which told me the community at St. John’s was not at all as willing as they strove so hard to appear to deal with their own history or to protect the vulnerable. I also, sadly, realized that Abbot Timothy’s spiritual advice was more about protecting the power of those in authority than in any way encouraging me to grow as a spiritual person. I resigned from ISTI, distanced myself from St. John’s, and have gone on very happily with my life in the years since.
I am revisiting these issues now only because I recently learned of Abbot Timothy’s death. I found that this news brought up some strong unresolved feelings, and in searching around for information, I came across your website. What a relief to have the information that was kept secret all those years finally printed in one place! I would never have found out how accurate my intuitions were without the concrete evidence published on your website. In some ways, it comes as no surprise to realize that Timothy and Roman not only deceived by implication, but outright lied on occasion. On the other hand, I am still shocked at the depth of their willingness to deceive, and at how good they have been at exploiting the good will of people like me. I see now that while I was working very hard to help them wake up to the work that they needed to do, they were working even harder to find ways to allow the monastic community to stay asleep. I see now that there was never true remorse, because there was no true willingness to own their history. Which means that, as I see it, there has been no true apology, no sincere amends.
Thank you for being part of my healing, and part of the ongoing effort to hold St. John’s accountable to their own rhetoric.