Abbot John Klassen OSB: An Open Letter of Apology


The Rule of Saint Benedict teaches, “Receive everyone as Christ.” I am deeply sorry that some members of the Saint John’s monastic community have 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, but have inflicted serious harm on their victims.

My first concern is 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.

I also apologize to all of our employees, all students in our University and Preparatory School, alumni, friends and neighbors, especially the priests and faithful of the St. Cloud Diocese, for the hurt, disappointment and embarrassment they have experienced because of the grave mistakes of some members of this community. It is a hurt, disappointment and embarrassment that I share.

Although it has been painful to be in the media spotlight, especially regarding acts of abuse that happened a decade or more ago and to which we responded in the early 90’s as responsibly as we knew how, we recognize that it was our failings that provoked this attention by the media, and that attention has, in fact, helped us to be even more attentive to finding ways to help both victims and offenders to come to be healed.

Saint John’s Abbey has learned a wrenching lesson from the unconscionable acts of some of its members. As Abbot, my heart has ached as I have learned more from victims and therapists about the long-term emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual pain that is caused by sexual abuse.

Saint John’s Abbey’s policy on sexual abuse begins with the following statement: “When considering sexual abuse or sexual exploitation by a monk, the Abbey maintains a primary concern for the victim’s safety and well-being. [The Abbey recognizes] that the sexual abuse or sexual exploitation has tragic consequences for the victim as well as for the abuser.” I affirm and pledge to continue my monastic community’s policy of extending opportunities for therapy and other assistance to victims to assist them in their process of emotional and spiritual healing. As I do so, I will be honoring a policy established in 1989 by Abbot Jerome Theisen and pursued by my predecessor, Abbot Timothy Kelly. The policy, which was adopted 2/2/89 and revised 10/19/92 and 2/2/93, may be found at the following Internet website: .

Additionally, I intend to establish an external advisory board to advise me on issues related to the Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Policy. (As an alternative, I might request to affiliate the Abbey with the external advisory board which has been proposed by the Catholic dioceses of this province.)

As we deal with the effects on victims, it is also important to be clear about our policies and practices that include the prevention of misconduct and abuse by those who have committed misconduct in the past.

The monastic community has given its full support to my commitment to a three-level plan of actions to assure against further abuse. My proposal includes ongoing training for all members of the community; continued thorough screening and training for candidates for the monastic way of life; and strict supervision, therapy and rehabilitation for monks who have acted inappropriately.

The monastic community as a whole has regular workshops and presentations on issues of celibacy and sexual abuse. Human Rights and Sexual Assault policies are enforced within the larger Saint John’s community that includes the Preparatory School, University and Liturgical Press. These policies govern all incidents on campus involving both monastic and lay employees. A lay Human Rights officer handles all complaints. Monks, employees and students receive ongoing training about issues of sexual harassment and the importance of maintaining appropriate boundaries with others.

Since 1986, the Abbey has followed an intensified protocol for psychological screening for all candidates for admission to the monastic community. At every stage of the interview and intensive five-year monastic “formation” process we address an array of issues openly and fully, including the issue of celibate living and its obligations. Applicants are screened carefully to assess their emotional and sexual maturity. Novice and junior monks have classes on celibacy, and their understanding and practice of monastic celibacy is part of the regular evaluation process.

During this time of crisis in the Catholic Church, many have used phrases such as “zero tolerance” or “one strike and you’re out.” Permit me to share with you the definition of “zero tolerance” that is applied in this monastery.

Saint John’s Abbey is a community of men who have come together to seek God by following the monastic way of life. An essential element of the monastic way is chastity. If a monk is unfaithful to his vow of chastity, and if that infidelity involves sexual abuse (that is, a sexual relationship with minor or vulnerable adult), he is immediately removed from any work or pastoral activity that could lead to establishing a similar relationship with another person.

Specifically, monks who have sexually abused young persons or vulnerable adults are not allowed to have pastoral or unsupervised social contact with our students or other young persons. They are not allowed to serve in parishes, to spend time in the Preparatory School or in most University facilities. Monks under restriction may not travel without my permission.

The monastic community believes it is acting responsibly to provide a program of therapy and rehabilitation for persons who have violated appropriate interpersonal boundaries. The alternative is to expel them to live in the broader community without the restrictions, supervision and help of such a program.

I inform the other monastic superiors (Prior, Subprior and Treasurer), work supervisors and appropriate colleagues of members of the monastic community who are restricted. I regularly review the restrictions with monks under restrictions with the objective of doing everything possible to help them in developing a healthy and spiritual life.

The Abbey’s intensive program of therapy and rehabilitation for offending members of the monastic community is intended to strengthen their resolve/commitment to the vow of chastity. Heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual persons are capable of living the celibate monastic life. The Abbey applies the same expectations about celibacy to all monks regardless of their sexual orientation. If during therapy and rehabilitation a monk concludes that he will be unable to live a celibate life, either he elects to leave the monastery or he is asked to leave. Some members of the monastic community have left.

The actions we have taken have been effective. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no allegations against any of the monks living under restriction, or any member of Saint John’s Abbey, for sexual misconduct that has occurred since 1992.

Nonetheless, I have made it clear that any concerns about the behavior of individual monks should be brought to my attention immediately. According to state law, any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adults must be reported to law enforcement authorities. We comply with the law. Saint John’s Abbey has always cooperated with law enforcement authorities and will continue to provide whatever information authorities request.

Victims of sexual abuse have a right to privacy. It is the Abbey’s policy to respect an individual victim’s choice of confidentiality or of identifying themselves publicly or privately. Occasionally it is impossible for us to protect confidentiality. Any document that is entered into the legal system becomes public; medical records remain private unless and until they are subpoenaed.

In conclusion, I sincerely appreciate the understanding, support and encouragement Saint John’s Abbey has received from its friends and neighbors of all faiths. I also understand and acknowledge the sadness, hurt and anger many persons hold and have expressed as a result of inappropriate behavior by some monks.

The purpose of a community such as Saint John’s Abbey is to provide an opportunity for a group of men (or women) to dedicate their lives to seeking God by following the monastic way of life. Over the years, those who have come to know us realize that persons living the monastic life are not immune to the lifelong burden of human frailty. Perhaps never in the history of this Abbey have we experienced a more acute awareness of the frailty of human nature and the need for repentance, forgiveness, atonement and renewal that is at the front of the Gospel message. In addition to the specific steps I have outlined to begin our own renewal, I have asked the monastic community to consider what we need to do as a family to repent for the sins that have been committed.

I am sorry for the pain we have caused others and I pledge to do everything in my power to lead this monastic community through a period of healing and reconciliation. I ask for our friends’ prayers and support as we embark on this journey to make us fully worthy of confidence and trust as we reaffirm our search for God.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB
June 7, 2002

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Topics: Abbey Apology, Abbot Apologies, John Klassen, Letters to Community, Review Board, Timothy Kelly

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