Oct. 2, 2002 — It was distressing for me and for all friends of Saint John’s Abbey to read once again in the Minneapolis Star Tribune an account of the abusive, sinful acts of some members of the monastic community. While I do not agree with some of the conclusions drawn or implied in the article, it would accomplish little to engage in a debate over these differences.
Nearly 15 years ago when the Abbey learned that abuse had occurred, it established a Policy On Sexual Abuse And Exploitation, the first of a series of important steps to diminish the possibility of a recurrence of abuse. At that time, Abbots Jerome Theisen and Timothy Kelly took responsibility for what had occurred and made corrections. Our work since that time has built on the foundation that was put in place years ago.
During the 1990s these Abbots listened to survivors and acted responsibly to make corrections in our monastic culture. Abbot Timothy provided leadership in launching the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI), an ecumenical assembly of clergy, therapists and survivors. ISTI’s mission is to help prevent sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment through research, education and publication. Now a part of the School of Theology at Saint John’s University, it continues a leadership role giving voice to survivors and facilitating healing for survivors, faith communities and offenders.
Throughout his term, Abbot Timothy spoke out frequently, recognizing the harm that had been done to survivors of sexual abuse and insisting that Saint John’s Abbey take responsibility for what occurred in order to achieve healing for survivors and for the Abbey. In July, 1994, LINKUP, a national association for survivors, accepted Abbot Timothy’s invitation to hold its annual meeting at Saint John’s. It was the first time a survivors’ group met at a Catholic institution, and the first time that a Catholic bishop (Jerome Hanus of St. Cloud) and an abbot apologized publicly to persons who had been abused.
These and other sincere and determined initiatives received scant notice in the Minneapolis Tribune article last weekend. The reporting team knew this part of the story but chose not to include it in an article presented as a chronicle of events from the “1960s” through “Today.”
I outline this pattern of positive action over the last dozen years because I believe it tells the story that we do “get it” and that the Abbey has remained steadfast in its determination to achieve healing, reconciliation, prevention and renewal. It is not my intention to diminish or minimize the wrongdoing of abusers or the hurt they imposed on others. On the contrary, like the abbots who preceded me in this office, I acknowledge, take responsibility for and will continue to try to understand the human failure we have experienced.
The Rule of Saint Benedict teaches, “Receive everyone as Christ.” I am deeply sorry that some members of the Saint John’s monastic community violated such a fundamental part of our commitment by engaging in abusive sexual behavior with people in our schools and parishes. They have not simply broken their vow of chastity; they have inflicted serious harm on their victims. My first concern is for those victims. Representing Saint John’s Abbey, I acknowledge the wrongdoing, apologize for it and pledge my determination to assure that appropriate boundaries between members of this monastic community and other persons are never violated again.
The pain I am feeling, the pain I see in the faces of those I serve as Abbot only reminds me of the deeper pain I have seen in survivors of sexual abuse. It is a pain that strengthens my resolve to reach out to assist survivors wherever they are in their process of healing. And it strengthens my determination to achieve healing within my own monastic community.
For nearly 150 years, the monks of Saint John’s have made lasting contributions to the community in such areas as education, publication and ecumenism. I ask understanding and support as we at Saint John’s Abbey turn this dark page in our history – and as I encourage our monks and lay associates to continue their distinguished work in many areas for which this institution is known and respected.
I am confident about the future of Saint John’s Abbey as we enter this new chapter of our history. I ask for our friends’ prayers as we reaffirm our search for God.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB