There is news today that Saint John’s Abbey has settled all of the cases of sexual abuse brought forward by attorney Jeffrey Anderson. Abbot John intends to make full announcement early next week in a joint press conference with Jeffrey Anderson. We also know that there will be a very extensive article in this Sunday’s Star Tribune, which we are given to believe may frame the actions of the Abbey positively, but will go quite deeply into the facts of allegations and cases stretching back many decades.
The evil of sexual abuse is an appalling violation of power, trust. When perpetrated by priests and religious on persons who look to them for glimpse of Christ, it is diabolical. It attacks faith at its deepest level, threatens to kill the soul.
Religious institutions do not have a good record in dealing with this evil. It is too shocking to face. It used to be easy to deflect, to hope out of sight. We know that abuse wells up from larger cultural forces that diminish personal responsibility, distort healthy sexuality. Far too often sexual abuse is repeated from one generation to the next: an abuser turns out to have been a victim when young, abused by a teacher, mentor, parent, sibling, relative, neighbor, priest. Sexual abuse can be explained, but it can never be excused. It is evil, it has a long trajectory from generation to generation, and that trajectory must be broken.
Over the course of the 1980s and 90s survivors started to come forward, amazing persons with courage and stamina, calling for justice and healing, wise beyond reckoning, knowing that the cycle of abuse can only be broken by breaking silence and turning away from fear to open their shame to the eyes of others.
We all have learned about these courageous survivors these last months. Over the past decades they have taught the abbots of Saint John’s, one by one, to face the evil of sexual abuse head on — to listen to their pain; to learn the kind of assistance they needed, the kind it is Saint John’s responsibility to give; to deal directly and firmly with offenders – so that, one person at a time, cycle of sexual abuse could begin to break in our little part of the world.
I am still reeling from this. Saint John’s has come under a very fine microscope. We have put our best energies into dealing with reality of past abuse, and have struggled to develop skills in dealing with what, at times, seems to be a media feeding frenzy. We have put our best energies into responding to survivors as best we can and dealing directly and firmly with offenders. So that, one person at a time, cycle of sexual abuse is broken in our part of the world.
Saint John’s is committed to resolution, restitution, reconciliation and healing for past misconduct, and safeguards to diminish the chances of future sexual abuse. And this will be in the news these next days, though we are not sure it will be seen for what it is. At the very same time Saint John’s has a venerable, century-plus educational mission into which we continue to put our very best energies. …
Remarks by President Br. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB
Sept. 27, 2002
Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts of President Dietrich Reinhart’s Homecoming address on Friday, Sept. 27.