* The two articles that appeared in recent issues reporting on the response of St. John’s Abbey to allegations of sexual abuse were generally accurate and fair (NCR, Dec. 13 and 27). However, in an accompanying article headlined “Father is `lion at the gate’ pressing case against priest,” a statement is made about one of our monks that calls for clarification.
The author of the article refers to documents from St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, Md., that NCR obtained. These documents, the author says, show that psychologists who evaluated Fr. Richard Eckroth over a three-month period in 1994 “held that the allegations [of sexual abuse] and their specificity suggested that they were `quite credible.’”
The document cited by the author states the opinion that the evaluators arrived at after their initial assessment of the case. In their final report, commenting on Fr. Eckroth’s certainty that he never engaged in the activities described in the allegations, his primary therapist, the director of inpatient clinical services, and the medical director, write as follows: “Psychological testing, psychotherapy did not reveal any defensiveness or personality characteristics that would raise doubts in our minds as to Fr. Eckroth’s veracity.”
(Fr.) JOHN KLASSEN, OSB Collegeville, Minn.
Fr. Klassen is abbot of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.
National Catholic Reporter, Jan 17, 2003
* As a former graduate student in theology at St. John’s University who left the program for reasons other than the current scandal, I think the sources of some of their problems lie in the nature, as I experienced it, of the institution itself.
St. John’s Abbey exudes a sense of self-satisfied comfort and deliberate isolation from much of the problems of the world. While I studied there I became involved with some dynamic undergraduate students at Idzerda House on the St. Benedict’s College campus, women who were living in community and dedicated to social justice activism. In November 2000 I was privileged to be part of a contingent organized by Felicia Ochs, Amy Peterson, Sara Willi and others that traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., to protest the School of the Americas. I later joined many of these bright and articulate women in local actions against sweatshops, against sanctions on Iraq, and against ROTC on the campuses.
Although St. Benedict’s is the “sister school” to St. John’s and we brought our issues to the university, I was always disappointed that so few of the faculty and even fewer of the monks ever participated or lent, except in rather perfunctory manner, any support for this activism. It seemed that we were tolerated but that the monastic community was much more interested, say, in promoting the prestige of the institution with its hugely expensive “St. John’s Bible” project and by constantly hosting posh gatherings of rich benefactors.
I learned a great deal from some of my professors and I surely don’t regret attending this university–and I also recognize that fundraising for scholarships is necessary, but there is a very insular atmosphere at this place, which is to be expected in a monastic community I suppose, but it is, I think, detrimental to a real empathy and understanding of our Christian responsibilities to the wider world. St. John’s cannot escape this world; a monastery is not, after all, a refuge.
I add that I admire what Abbot John Klassen has done and the courage he has shown to confront ugly truths. I would also hope that this unhappy situation leads the entire institution to a real opening to join in struggles for justice and leads away from what one graduate of St. John’s I know called “discussing poverty while sipping crystal goblets of fine wine,”
La Crosse, Wis.
* I attended St. Benedict’s, the sister school to St. John’s. I took many classes at St. John’s and have a special love for both schools. But I had heard stories of sexual abuse while I was a student in the mid-1970s from classmates who complained of aggressive behavior by the monks. I am afraid much more of this went on than even the allegations in your story would indicate. I hope the recent scandals across the church will force a dramatic change in how the church deals with sexuality.