Collegeville – Expressing his sorrow to victims who had been sexually abused by St. John’s Abbey monks, Abbot John Klassen outlined Tuesday a far-reaching settlement that ensures that new abuse allegations against monks will be reported to an outside investigative review board.
The settlement, worked out beginning in June between attorneys for the victims and abbey leaders, also guarantees that accused monks will not be allowed to work among children until the allegation is thoroughly investigated by the board, which is to be set up by next summer. Provisions to prevent further abuse and help victims heal are also included. Additionally, some victims received an apology from their abusers.
While other priest-abuse settlements around the country have included millions of dollars, this settlement appears to offer the most comprehensive nonfinancial obligations. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
In an emotional day that was filled with warmth as well as tension, Klassen greeted victims and their supporters as they walked into the abbey’s church hall for an announcement they’d waited years to hear. Klassen and St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented most of the victims, stood as a united front in announcing the settlement.
The abbey apologizes
“What happened to you should not have happened,” Klassen said, looking into the eyes of nearly a half-dozen abuse victims and their families who were gathered there. He said he could not find words to express his sorrow and grief.
When asked by a reporter how abuse had been allowed in previous decades, He said it was a “potent question.”
“Human beings are frail and they make mistakes and they hurt others, even when they’ve been entrusted to not hurt,” he said.
“The reason that it went on is, I think . . . the culture didn’t have the right set of detectors to pick it up and to understand what was happening . . . and to make it stop.”
A long struggle
Anderson, who represented between 12 and 15 of the victims and family members, called the agreement a model that should be adopted by every diocese in the country.
He credited the victims for stepping forward. “Because they did break that silence and had the will and the spirit and the courage to come forward, something very real is now happening,” he said. Anderson described the victims as being “heartbroken children” at the time of their abuse and said the past decades have been “a struggle in healing, it’s been a struggle in getting justice, and it’s been a struggle in extracting . . . an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.
“They were not believed, and we as a culture are responsible for that.”
Some of the victims in the settlement had received money from the abbey years ago. But Anderson has said he pursued additional compensation because original payments fell short of what victims deserved.
David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the settlement could be a model for others.
“I’m not aware of anything like that anywhere,” he said.
The settlement included undisclosed financial payments and six contractual provisions that the abbey will have to follow.
Under the agreement:
– The abbey will send all new allegations to an outside review board that includes at least two clergy-abuse survivors, two current or former law enforcement officials, a current or former judicial official, a parent of a clergy abuse survivor and a mental health professional. The lay board will be created by June 2003 and will be ecumenical in character.
– A three-person subcommittee will promptly investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by monks or anyone associated with the abbey. If the accuser is a minor, a vulnerable adult or someone receiving counseling, the accusation immediately will be turned over to a law enforcement agency.
– Any monk or person associated with the abbey who is accused of sexual misconduct will be placed on leave immediately for at least five days while the information can be turned over to the review board. Once an investigation has determined that abuse has occurred, the alleged perpetrator’s identity will be turned over to bishops, church leaders and law enforcement. Notice will then be sent to relevant communities – parishioners, students and alumni – urging additional victims to come forward.
– The abbey will finance an off-site retreat in St. Cloud for pastoral care and healing. The abbey will pay for travel and overnight accommodations for the first retreat and help develop future retreat programs.
– The abbey will pay for therapy for certain survivors of sexual abuse and their families.
The abbey will not specify which therapist can be used, and all bills will be sent directly to the abbey.
– The board will review the abbey’s existing sexual abuse policy and will make recommendations annually. Education about appropriate physical contact will continue to be provided to all students, faculty and staff members and volunteers.
The abbey has identified 11 monks who are on restriction on the abbey grounds for credible evidence of sexual misconduct.
Closure for some
Allen Vogel, 36, one of the settlement victims and one of three siblings abused by monks when they were small children, said the agreement raises the bar for dioceses across the country that are struggling with priest abuse.
Vogel’s mother, Arlene, hugged Klassen before his remarks. Afterward, she described a mixture of emotions. “It’s been a hard struggle for the past 10 years, not being believed,” she said. “This [settlement] brings things to an end for me. All those years, all that denial from the past _ now they’ve admitted it. They said it happened. They said our children were telling the truth.”
Added her husband, Ray Vogel, his eyes tearing up: “I pray for Abbot John. There’s a lot of good men there at the abbey, and Abbot John is one. I think he’s doing right by people now, and I pray he has a long life, that he gets done all the things on that agreement.”
Klassen already had announced this summer that the abbey would follow the national sexual-abuse policy approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, which includes immediate suspension of priests accused of molesting children and establishment of a review board to oversee handling of complaints.
Many dioceses have review boards appointed by bishops. Apparently for the first time in the church, victims of sexual abuse will be equal partners with Abbot Klassen in naming those on the lay review board.
In August, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which advises most of the men’s religious orders in the United States, approved a policy that was somewhat weaker than the bishops’ policy. Religious orders do not fall under the jurisdiction of bishops, although _ as in the case of St. John’s _ they sometimes provide parish priests to dioceses.
The bishops’ policy requires that bishops remove an offending priest from any ministry and, in most cases, to ask the pope to defrock the priest.
The Benedictine Order’s policy, under which the abbey falls, permits monks found guilty of molesting children to remain as monks, but bars them from working with children or other potential abuse victims.
Clohessy said the most important part of the settlement “is that the truth of the victims’ stories is being acknowledged by the abbey. The victims are getting letters of apology from the perpetrators or Abbot Klassen. And the settlement is putting in place some procedures to help protect other children from the abuse they suffered.
“What is sad, though, is that it took lawsuits and this settlement for the leaders of this abbey to do what the Bible asks of us all, to help the afflicted.”
Abbey promises change
St. John’s apologized and said an outside board and other measures will help prevent more sexual abuse
By Pam Louwagie, Paul McEnroe, and Warren Wolfe firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune
October 2, 2002