St. John’s Abbey Culture


For decades, a group of monks at St. John’s Abbey operated a sex abuse ring. Boys as young as 9 were victimized, as were teenage boys and girls. But most of the victims were novice monks – high school and college graduates who were drawn to the discipline of monastic life, which consists of prayer, study, teaching and living in a religious community of like-minded men. A former monk recalled that during the 1970s, the novices would enter the dining room, and a group of older monks “would descend like vultures.” Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney stated: “For a long time there has been a cleric culture created there at St. John’s of sexual abuse of minors and adults, and it is huge. Every time we try to address it legally, they put up barriers, hiding behind statutes of limitations. They are deceiving everybody that there isn’t a problem out there.” “There are dozens of monks,” he seethes, “who are involved in this abuse. If a victim comes forward they [the abbey] basically try to keep them in guilt and secrecy, and if these kids have the courage to go to a lawyer the abbey shuts them down, treats them terribly, victimizes them again. And it’s really ugly. I’ve brought some dozen cases against St. John’s and have settled on most of them, but because of the statute of limitations in Minnesota I have not been able to get justice for these kids. I’ve received about 20 cases in the last 10 years about abuse out at St. John’s and because I’ve not been able to expose any of them in court, the number of victims out there is probably 10 or 20 times higher than that. I’ve talked to a half-dozen victims involving Eckroth alone, but have never been able to bring a case against him.”

Conspiracy of silence Richard Sipe, a former abbey monk and a nationally recognized psychotherapist, who was a monk at St. John’s from 1952 to 1970, specializes in priest-abuse issues. Interviews with Sipe and other former monks detail the abbey’s secretive culture that dated at least to the 1960s. “The instruction in sexuality just wasn’t there,” Sipe said. When vows were broken, he said, silence filled the vacuum and the secrets stayed within the abbey’s walls. “Part of it is this theological rationalization that forgiveness is superior to everything,” he said. “And, of course, forgiveness is important, but forgiveness goes along with reform. They didn’t reform.” Instead, he said, a sort of “secret system” sprang up. “So there becomes a kind of bond. … It’s almost a conspiracy of silence.”

Source: Eureka Encyclopedia

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Topics: Jeff Anderson, Richard Eckroth, Richard Sipe

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