Settlement sparks release of monk files

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(SC Times) ST. PAUL — The personnel files of five St. John’s Abbey monks were released Tuesday as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against the abbey and one of its monks.

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The files show that one monk admitted to each having more than 200 sexual encounters and another credibly accused monk was paid $30,000 to leave the priesthood, according to the files.

Attorney Jeff Anderson held a press conference to announce the release of the files on the Rev. Finian McDonald, the Rev. Bruce Wollmering, Francis Hoefgen, the Rev. Thomas Gillespie and the Rev. Richard Eckroth.

Hoefgen was arrested in Stearns County in 1984 in connection with a report of sexual abuse against a 17-year-old boy who had been living with Hoefgen temporarily. Hoefgen was a priest at St. Boniface parish in Cold Spring at the time. He wasn’t charged in the case. Hoefgen left the priesthood in 2011 and got a $30,000 check from the abbey.

“The troubling part is they are paying the offender more money to keep quiet and quietly walk away than they would any of the survivors coming forward,” Anderson said. “Hush money.”

The files released this week include thousands of pages detailing the monks’ work histories, educational backgrounds and personal correspondence. They also include allegations of inappropriate conduct by the monks, most dating back several years.

“There are documents in each file which may be quoted and framed in a lurid context. But the huge majority of the documents in each of these files acknowledges the very real failures of some monks while showing each of the accused monks as a fallible, relatable person,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by Abbot John Klassen. “The files also show that the abbey did not try to cover up allegations and did a reasonable job of managing the monk and the problem.”

Anderson strongly disagreed, saying that monks violated the terms of their safety plans without consequence, that inappropriate behavior happened with some monks in the last few years and that “many offenders were allowed access to so many kids for so many years.”

A 2013 complaint alleged that Gillespie was sending inappropriate e-mails to a St. John’s University student. In 2006, Wollmering was accused of the same thing.

In 2011, there are complaints about McDonald’s level of access to students. And in 2012, he was inappropriate with an employee.

“These are concerns about now and in real time,” Anderson said.

The abbey turned over the files of 19 monks; the rest are expected to be released by Anderson’s office after sensitive material has been redacted. The files show that McDonald admitted to more than 200 sexual encounters.

The majority of those encounters were with consenting adults, but it’s unknown how many, Anderson said.

Much of the information discussed at the press conference has been known publicly for years, but details behind the cases are new.

The 19 files include monks living at St. John’s under safety plans, nine monks who are deceased and two who have left St. John’s and the Benedictine order.

Anderson has files of “all monks against whom there have been credible allegations of misconduct involving minors,” according to Klassen’s statement. He said the abbey has tried to be “transparent and thorough in confronting credible allegations” and has accepted “full responsibility for abuses that have been committed and has made sincere and heartfelt apologies directly to victims and their families as well as through the media and in other public forums.”

The lawsuit that led to the release of the priest files was filed by Troy Bramlage against the Rev. Allen Tarlton. That case was scheduled for trial earlier this year but settled.

Bramlage said the release of the files is a good step, but that he had “fire coming out of his eyes” when he saw the abbey say that the incidents were 30-40 years old. He encouraged other victims to come forward in the hopes that more information will be released.

“I want to at least come out and say ‘This happens. It’s real. I’m one of those people. Use my face. Come forward and be John Doe 10,’” Bramlage said.

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Settlement sparks release of monk files
David Unze
St. Cloud Times
November 24, 2015

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Topics: 2015 File Release, Bruce Wollmering, Finian McDonald, Fran Hoefgen, Jeff Anderson, John Klassen, Richard Eckroth, Thomas Gillespie

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