Though not required to do so, the more than 190 priests and brothers at St. John’s Abbey will abide by the sexual-abuse policy approved by American Catholic bishops last week in Dallas, Abbot John Klassen told the Benedictine monks Wednesday evening.
His decision means that the status will be changed for at least some of the 14 monks who live under restrictions at the abbey in Collegeville, Minn., because of past sexual abuse of minors and young people, said the Rev. William Skudlarek, a spokesman for the abbey.
In an application stricter than the bishops’ policy, the abbey will remove from ministry any monk who has sexually abused anyone, regardless of age. The bishops’ policy applies only to clerics who have abused minors.
It is not clear how many of the monks under restrictions will be affected by the policy, Skudlarek said. Several are retired, and a number work at various tasks at the abbey. One of the monks who has been allowed to lead workshops at the Villa Maria Retreat Center near Frontenac, Minn., will cease that work. Klassen is reviewing whether another may continue work with oblates, who are lay associates at the abbey, and whether a third may continue as guest master, who greets visitors.
In addition, the Crosier order of monks, based in Shoreview, is considering following the policy, which was adopted Friday for all Catholic dioceses, a spokeswoman said.
Across the country, religious communities of monks are considering whether to adopt the policy, which applies to the 194 Catholic dioceses in the United States but not to the monks and nuns in religious orders, who fall under a different branch of canon law and do not report to the bishops.
Many groups say they probably will not make a final decision until August, after the issues are discussed at the annual national assembly in Philadelphia of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which represents about 25,000 priests and brothers.
Under the national policy, any priest or deacon who has sexually abused a minor may not continue in ministry, identify himself publicly as a priest, say mass in public or wear clerical garb.
This week, at least nine priests in Minnesota dioceses have been told that their duties are changing. They include three each in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Diocese of Crookston and the Diocese of St. Cloud.
In St. Cloud, the three were notified in letters sent to them Wednesday, said spokesman Steve Gottwalt. He said they were not in parish ministry, but at least two have been doing “supervised work that does not involve contact with minors.” He could not say specifically how their lives might change.
The three priests in the Crookston Diocese are retired. In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, one worked as a chaplain in a Bloomington monastery and the two others worked in the chancery office.
Earlier this year, all six of the Catholic bishops in Minnesota said they believed that there were no priests in parish ministry who had abused minors in the past.
St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney met with some of the Crosiers Tuesday, but on a different topic. However, the Crosiers have invited him to speak with them about the sexual-abuse policy, Gottwalt said. Kinney said he also intends to meet soon with Klassen at St. John’s, according to Gottwalt.
The Benedictine abbey and a major community of Crosiers in Onamia, Minn., are in the St. Cloud Diocese.
While in Dallas last week, Kinney said he had spoken in depth with Klassen in recent months about the problems of protecting youths from abusive priests, “and we’re on the same page. I have a lot of respect for Abbot John and how he has been open about the problems of some of the monks there.
“We’ve agreed that we want to speak with one voice about how we will address the issue of sexual abuse.”
Like other dioceses around the nation, those in Minnesota also have begun examining their sexual-abuse policies to make them conform to the national policy approved overwhelmingly by the bishops.
Most of the policies must add provisions to:
– Remove from ministry any priest or deacon who has sexually abused a minor.
– Define sexual abuse as any inappropriate sexual contact with a child, regardless of whether it involves force or physical contact or whether any harm is apparent.
– Require that a complete description of a priest’s personnel record be sent ahead of him when he transfers to another diocese.
– Require reporting to civil authorities any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, and eliminate confidentiality agreements in suit settlements unless requested by the victim.
– Create a review board made up largely of lay members who review diocesan sexual-abuse policies and recommend to the bishop action to be taken when a priest or deacon is accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
In addition, the bishops of the 10 dioceses of Minnesota and the Dakotas – the Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis – announced last week that each will hire an outside “auditor” to examine how well the diocese is following its policy and to make the reports public. Then a board appointed by Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis will periodically review the audits.
St. John’s Abbey also will participate in that audit process, Klassen said.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Warren Wolfe; Staff Writer