Collegeville – An apology, validation and a promise to ensure sexual abuse won’t happen to another child or adult. These, for many survivors of clergy sexual abuse, are far more important than financial settlement.
“That’s what it was really all about … accountability, stopping the trail of deceit, lies and cover-up, and acknowledging that this has occurred,” said Allen Vogel, one of more than 12 victims and family members involved in a settlement announced Tuesday with St. John’s Abbey.
Vogel said when he brought abuse allegations forward 12 years ago, a former abbot lied to him, saying no other children were abused by his accused priest. That abbot also denied Vogel a meeting with the priest, something Vogel requested for his healing process.
“They wanted me to go away,” Vogel said. “But, of course, I didn’t.”
Finally, St. John’s Abbot John Klassen did what is right, Vogel said. “He’s the leader St. John’s has been looking for for decades.”
Klassen and Jeff Anderson, a nationally recognized attorney representing victims of clergy sexual abuse, worked for months on a settlement involving an undisclosed amount of money and a multi-layered process to address clergy sexual abuse.
Before the announcement, Anderson told victims and parents: “This is going to be a new church in terms of safety for children.”
The agreement creates a model of prevention, healing, reconciliation and an external review process created by and through the survivors’ community, he said.
It is a model based on an abbot’s promise – but with legal teeth.
“We will sue them if they don’t abide,” Anderson said.
More than money
“The noncompensation piece is the most critical thing the abbey can do to address the needs of the victim,” said Maxine Barnett, an advocate who works with those abused by clergy from the St. John’s abbey and the diocese of St. Cloud.
Victims want to know how it happened to them and how can it not happen to someone else, she said. The abbey program that educates monastic community, employees, volunteers and students on issues related to appropriate human boundaries addresses this, she said.
Another settlement component – a retreat designed to enable victims to explore the value of ongoing, annual retreats – offers a “tremendous healing benefit” for victims, she said, providing a way to help those who need ongoing support or feel isolated.
Also, “I think the lay review board is a must,” Barnett said. “It’s never good for an organization to be its own monitor.”
However, she said, compensation is important and necessary for victims whose lives have been shattered by clergy abuse. “It robs people of time, energy and the capacity, often, to be self-sufficient over a period of time when they are suffering trauma.”
Anderson’s clients all received an apology from the abuser, or from Klassen on behalf of the monk or priest, as part of the settlement. The Rev. Allen Tarlton “expressed sorrow for his role” in a letter to oblates, the Rev. Brennan Maiers apologized directly to a victim, and the Rev. Francis Hoefgen has apologized in a public letter.
David Clohessey, executive director of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said only a Los Angeles diocese settlement comes close to the “innovative and broad” approach agreed to by St. John’s.
“We’re excited by the outreach provisions where the abbey is obligated to reach out to a victim once there is an allegation, rather than being passive,” he said. Under the terms, the abbey must send a letter to staff, students, alumni and others when it gets a substantiated abuse allegation with hopes of persuading other victims to come forward.
And, SNAP will have a voice in selecting a new oversight board – comprised of mental health professionals, abuse victims, civil law experts and others.
Clohessey said “the heroes are these men and women that have forced this institution to deal with a deeply rooted and long-standing set of criminals in its midst.”
Several survivors spoke with deference about St. John’s and most of those who work there, while expressing frustration about the few men who have cast a negative shadow.
Arlene Vogel, a former abbey employee and mother of three sons who were abused by a parish priest in the 1980s, agreed. Ten years ago, she said, “we didn’t know where to go to, who to talk to” when a priest didn’t believe her sons were abused.
“It’s never been about the money,” she said.
The settlement puts an end to years of sorrow and pain, she added. “This is what we wanted, for them to believe our boys.”
Her husband, Ray Vogel, said all along what he wanted was public acknowledgment and to know there won’t be more children hurt.
Klassen, who turned toward victims and family members during the conference to offer his “deepest and sincerest apology,” also reached out to the Vogel parents following the event.
Ray Vogel responded to Klassen saying, “We need your strength.”
Bill Quenroe, who sued the abbey and one of its priests earlier this year for abuse occurring in the 1990s, said it was “unsettling” to be visibly public as a victim on Tuesday. Yet, he said, “It’s the only way anybody else hears what is going on.”
Quenroe said he doesn’t know if he is satisfied with the settlement. “I’m still processing through the feelings I have,” he said. “It feels good to be a part of this change.”
Craig Martin, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse but not part of Anderson’s settlement, said the lay board is a good first step. “It’s what a lot of survivors have been after, including myself.”
Time will tell if St. John’s new reporting structures, which answers first to lay people rather than the Vatican, holds up to canon law, he said. “This is a tremendous start.”
Martin said he was disappointed that some abusers did not directly apologize, having Klassen do it instead.
“If we’re talking about ending the process, we need perpetrators to be honest and take that first step in the 12-step process in admitting wrong,” Martin said.
Monks on restriction
According to published reports, the following St. John’s Abbey monks are on restriction:
– Brother Andre Bennett,
– The Rev. Cosmas Dahlheimer
– The Rev. Richard Eckroth
– The Rev. John Eidenschink
– The Rev. Thomas Gillespie
– The Rev. Francis Hoefgen
– The Rev. Brennan Maiers
– The Rev. Finian McDonald
– The Rev. Dunstan Moorse
– The Rev. Francisco Schulte
– The Rev. Allen Tarlton
These two community members are on leave from the abbey:
– Brother Isaac Connolly
– Brother John Kelly
Policy released Tuesday by St. John’s Abbey
St. John’s Abbey released this policy as a part of Tuesday’s statement.
“The noncompensation component of the settlement, portions of which were in place prior to the settlement discussions, includes the following agreements:
1. Creation of a lay review board of at least seven members to investigate and assure full accounting for any future allegation of sexual misconduct against a member of the monastic community, the monastery’s employees or its volunteers. As required by law, allegations of sexual abuse will be reported immediately to law enforcement authorities.
2. The Abbey will finance a retreat in the St. Cloud area to enable victims to explore the value of offering ongoing, annual retreats. If participants determine that annual retreats would be beneficial, the Abbey will sponsor them.
3. The Abbey will continue its policy of paying for ongoing group and individual therapy as needed by victims, and funds will be provided for spiritual direction for victims.
4. To help prevent recurrence of sexual misconduct, the Abbey will continue a comprehensive program to educate all members of the monastic community, employees, volunteers and students on issues related to appropriate human boundaries. The review board will review and approve each of these educational activities. The board will also review and make recommendations on the abbey’s sexual abuse policy and its implementation on an annual basis.”
To clergy victims, acknowledgment proves invaluable
By Kristin Gustafson
St. Cloud (MN) Times
October 2, 2002