Dear Friends of Saint John’s,
The last months have been filled with painful stories about sexual abuse committed by priests and religious. The fact that the stories are most often about events which occurred years, even decades ago, does not diminish the anguish which so many members of the Catholic church are experiencing.
As you know well, allegations of sexual abuse were lodged against some monks of Saint John’s Abbey in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As persons came forward, often after years of excruciating suffering, Saint John’s responded with assistance to allow such persons to address the awful secret they had been living with and to remake their lives. At the same time the monastic community established clear policies requiring interventions with monks who were accused of being perpetrators. Every case was investigated promptly. If the accusations were credible, the accused were required to undergo treatment; and upon returning to their monastic community, they were allowed to work only in positions where others would not be vulnerable.
In the course of my first year as abbot, I have listened to victim’s stories, and spoken with counselors and other leaders in the therapeutic community. The tidal wave of reflection going on within our Church led me more recently to review with our legal counsel every past settlement which Saint John’s has made with victims. I want to ensure that those settlements are informed by the most recent knowledge we all have gained about the grievous pain associated with clerical sexual abuse.
In the process of this review, I have determined that one set of allegations, so far not made public even within the monastic community, needs to see the light of day for the sake of the integrity, healing and continued vitality of Saint John’s Abbey.
In the late 1980’s then Abbot Jerome Theisen received an allegation against former Abbot John Eidenschink by a former monk of Saint John’s Abbey, who was abused for a significant amount of time both during and after his time in our community. Following our policy we offered funding for the settlement, which included counseling, legal fees, as well as a living stipend. According to policy, Abbot Eidenschink was removed from his responsibilities as the pastor of a parish and assigned as chaplain of a nursing home, a position in which no risk was ascertained.
In the mid-1990’s another allegation against Abbot Eidenschink was made, again by a former monk of Saint John’s Abbey. Funding for counseling and other expenses was part of the settlement.
Given that these abusive actions occurred within the monastic community and were in the past, the allegations against Abbot Eidenschink were never discussed openly within the monastery. Saint John’s Abbey has been working hard over the last decade and a half to build healthier understandings of what is necessary to prevent the occurrence of sexual abuse and exploitation. Many commentators have observed that a culture of secrecy makes sexual abuse and exploitation possible. Therefore, I have determined that the monastic community and, you, a member of the larger Saint John’s family, ought to know about these incidents involving a past leader of Saint John’s.
Other allegations made against monks of Saint John’s are a matter of public record and will be re-examined periodically by the media. Perhaps this is the only way our culture can reckon with the true pain caused by clerical sexual abuse. I ask you for your prayers as Saint John’s Abbey works, with the rest of our beloved Church, to address the pain caused by sexual abuse and prevent such pain in the future.
Abbot John Klassen, OSB
April 19, 2002