Lawyers for abuse victims want diocese, abbey to release more information

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Leaders of the Diocese of St. Cloud and St. John’s Abbey haven’t done enough to protect children or other potential victims from clergy who are credibly accused of sex abuse and living in the community, alleged abuse victims and their attorneys said Monday.

Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Michael Bryant, their clients and advocates spoke at a news conference at the Bradshaw & Bryant law offices in Waite Park.

They disputed recent claims by St. Cloud diocesan and St. John’s Abbey officials that they have disclosed all known names of clergy members with credible accusations of abuse.

They also emphasized what they described as the threat posed by such clergy living at St. John’s Abbey and elsewhere in Central Minnesota. Fourteen credibly accused offenders now live at the abbey, Anderson said.

“As long as there’s a monk who is a sex offender that’s on campus at St. John’s, those kids are not going to be safe,” said Patrick Wall, a former St. John’s monk who now works for Anderson.

A spokesman for St. John’s Abbey, Brother Aelred Senna, declined to immediately respond to Monday. Senna said the abbey likely would respond at a later date.

At the press conference, the attorneys and alleged victims specifically addressed comments by St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler and St. John’s Abbot John Klassen to the Times Editorial Board last month. The interview was recorded on video and streamed on the Times website.

Kettler and Klassen told the editorial board they’ve released all known names of members of their orders who are credibly accused of abuse.

They also said they’re confident children are safe at St. John’s Preparatory School and other places near where credibly accused clergy offenders now live. Klassen said a lack of substantiated abuse allegations in recent years demonstrates the efficacy of steps taken by the abbey to protect children, such as risk assessments of offending monks.

Anderson and Bryant pushed back against those statements at Tuesday’s news conference. They were joined by Wall, two alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, Troy Bramlage and Bob Ethan, and the director of the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, Peggy LaDue.

Wall questioned the effectiveness of risk assessments of alleged offenders, saying it’s difficult to predict when and where some will re-offend.

Anderson said interviews with victims and other information assembled by he and others shows the abbey hasn’t yet released all the names of credibly accused clergy offenders in their order. Anderson also said he has serious questions about the completeness of the diocese’s offender list.

“We know that there’s more names out there,” Bryant said. “We expect that more names will come out. And it’s individuals that are alive, individuals that we’re finding out are in our communities.”

Anderson and others at the press conference called on the diocese and abbey to release additional information, including their internal files, on the alleged offenders.

They also said there should be public scrutiny of diocesan or abbey safety plans to protect children from alleged offenders living at St. John’s Abbey or elsewhere in the community. LaDue says she’d like to review the experts and sources for safety plans adopted by the abbey and diocese.

Anderson also invited Kettler and Klassen to participate in a public forum on clergy abuse at a date and location to be determined. The forum would include alleged abuse victims and abuse experts, Anderson said.

Anderson and others had planned to show a video at the press conference of a deposition given last year by the Rev. Allen Tarlton, a St. John’s Abbey priest, in an abuse lawsuit against him. Bramlage says Tarlton sexually assaulted him at St. John’s in the 1970s.

But the video wasn’t aired after a judge issued a court order moments before the news conference, requiring the video and transcript of Tarlton’s deposition be kept sealed. The order was issued in response to an emergency motion filed by Tarlton’s attorney Sunday, asking that the deposition not be made public.

Bramlage said he watched the video of Tarlton’s deposition, and it was painful. He said he’s particularly concerned that Tarlton remains in a place where he might gain access to children again.

A statement from an attorney for Tarlton, Robert Stich, said the protective order was sought to prevent a potential jury pool for Tarlton from being tainted.

“We do not believe that lawsuits should be litigated in the media or at a press conference,” Stich wrote.

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Lawyers for abuse victims want diocese, abbey to release more information
St. Cloud Times
February 3, 2014

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