Statements by Abbot Timothy Kelly, OSB


Responding in a Time of Crisis
[Date Unknown] Addresses and Statements by Abbot Timothy Kelly, OSB
Saint John’s Abbot – 1990-2000

Various writings of Abbot Timothy Kelly, OSB, February 1993 to May 2000

from Abbot Timothy Kelly’s response to a Professor of the University:

February 8, 1993

. . . we try to stress three points:

Sexual abuse and sexual exploitation by monks are immoral and will not be tolerated within the Saint John’s community.
As a monastic community, we must support and care for victims and their families.
We cannot change the past, but we are doing everything possible to prevent abuse now and in the future. We hope to do even more as we learn more about sexual abuse and exploitation.
. . . What we have done is to face the issue squarely, answered truthfully and sincerely.

Statement at Monastic Community Meeting

May 30, 1993

Not all suffering is unmerited, but if we can willingly endure what makes us uncomfortable for the sake of others maybe the healing will touch not only them but us as well.

from Resurrection and Healing Conference:

April 21, 1993

Just as individuals can be wounded so too can communities, and communities also have to seek and accept healing sometimes. We can think of many wounds we’ve suffered together, from the pain suffered when loved people decide to leave the community, to the deaths of promising young monks, to allegations of sexual improprieties, to misunderstandings and intolerance within. If we know that we as individuals have a right to be treated with dignity, we have to say the community has that right as well. If we have been wounded, then healing comes only by facing reality, not by “stuffing” our feelings of loss at the people who have left us, or blaming our troubles on greedy lawyers, or isolating complainers so that we don’t have to listen to them.

Consultation on Sexual Misconduct: Opening Remarks

August 12, 1993

Are we afraid of what you might come up with in terms of how we might become agents of healing for serious problems we have been identified with? You’d better believe it. Yet it is with the very hope our faith inspires that we move through that fear in expectation of the grace God provides through you.

Report on Sexual Trauma Consultation

August 24, 1993

So where others might wring their hands and give up hope, the grace of God with us will lead us to seek means by which we who have wounded others can become ministers of healing and in the process become healed ourselves. . .

We are doing this not for the glory, because it doesn’t seem at this point to be a very glorious undertaking.

. . . we have been part of the problem, a problem that has been present long before the messengers brought us the word that we’ve been caught.”

from Abbot’s Letter to Community:

July 1993

Several commented concerning the healing prayer that we should now be able to put the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation behind us and move on to the future. These issues have been very hard on us individually and as a community and as with all unpleasant topics we would like very much to get them over with. We are not quite able to do that, however, especially since we deal not only with acts but with attitudes and environments that support dysfunctional behaviors. Until we can recognize and acknowledge that we have been and still are part of unhealthy systems we will not be able to address the real issues and find the healing that will make not only Saint John’s but the Church and the world a healthier place to live in. Some in our world today might disassociate themselves from “the problem” because they have never added to the scandal. But the fact is that our view of humanity or the Church or the community cannot be so disjunctive as to not realize that family systems do not contribute to unhealthy action. We all have need to examine our commitment to the unity of humanity, the Church, and the community. We cannot allow the temptation to judgmentalism of those accused to become an escape from facing our own sinfulness and failure.

Because these are problems for the wider community to face as well, Saint John’s Abbey and University will sponsor a conference on Sexuality and Trauma in the Church this August. The meeting is open to invited participants only and is focused on the goal “to produce a thoughtful and informed package of initiatives to recommend to the University and Monastic communities of St. John’s about sexuality and trauma and the church.” We have invited experts in the field, along with church leaders of various denominations who will bring together thoughts and suggestions not only for us but for the wider Church as well. Among those invited is Bishop John Kinney of Bismarck who has recently been appointed to a committee of American bishops to address these same issues. I ask the prayers of the community for this initiative that it will be the beginning of a truly healing time for us and for the Church.

from Abbot’s Letter to the Community:

September 1993

You will note from my conference that I believe the Sexual Trauma workshop was a very good meeting and that I believe we have an opportunity as a community to address vital issues for the churches in our day. In talking with a confrere after the conference of August 24 I was happy to hear him say that we as a community seem not to be hiding our head in the sand but putting aside denial and facing this opportunity maturely. The August 12 and 13 consultation marks a time of new beginnings for this community and, I hope, for the wider church as well. I want to thank all those in the community who supported and arranged this meeting: Brother Dietrich Reinhart, Father Dale Launderville, Father Michael Naughton, and Father Finian McDonald. I am looking forward to more in the community coming forward who might want to offer their services to see that we respond to this opportunity for service to the churches and to society.

LINKUP Leadership Workshop to Plan August 1994 Conference

November 20, 1993

From LINKUP we can learn much about the trauma of sexual abuse and exploitation, the pain and suffering this has caused, the sense of betrayal that has been created, the hope that was threatened with destruction. From us LINKUP can learn a new dimension of what it means to share in guilt by association, to be victims along with you of the failure of church and society to adequately face issues of exploitation of all sorts, sexual, economic, political to name just a few. . .

Abuse and exploitation finally emerge from a failure to value, to appreciate, to recognize not only this or that person, but a failure to know creation as the expression of God’s love for all – animate and inanimate – that it is.

from Community meeting:

May 30, 1994

A cooperative effort that is going on between the abbey and the university is the formation of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute. In early May we had a meeting of the newly formed board and I believe we are making progress in instituting a direction for the program. This, of course, has developed out of a sense of responsibility that we have to help heal problems arising from sexual abuse and exploitation. At times this may bring some discomfort for us, but we can have the courage to go on if we will remember that victims have suffered much discomfort because of sexual abuse and exploitation. Not all suffering is unmerited, but if we can willingly endure what makes us uncomfortable for the sake of others maybe the healing will touch not only them but us as well.

from Abbot’s Letter to Community:

May 1994

Last summer we had, you will recall, a meeting of persons interested in the way the Church addresses the problems surrounding the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation. We have been working since then to establish a board that can help us direct such a program, one we are currently calling the Sexual Trauma Institute. The first meeting of this board takes place here on May 2 and 3. Father Roman Paur has been appointed project director and the board will make recommendations concerning a permanent program director. Some contributions have been made to help us finance this and we are receiving help through the university office of Institutional Advancement in the process of fund raising. This Institute is a joint university/abbey project.

from Abbot’s Letter to Community:

June 1994

On May 2 to 3 a meeting was held of the members of the newly formed board of what we now call the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI) that has developed from our meeting in August 1993. I shared with the community at that time the recommendations made to us by the ad hoc group that met then and I am happy to report that we are making progress in this venture supported by both the abbey and the university. Father Roman Paur, whom I had appointed as project director prior to the May meeting, received the unanimous approval of the new board for the office of executive director of the institute. His task now is to bring together the mission statement and to pursue the fund raising that is needed to get institute properly established. It will take much courage and encouragement from the community to address the issues that will emerge in the future and I believe that rather than burying our heads in the sand we are facing some difficult problems with generosity.

Two times this summer we, along with ISTI, will be hosting meetings of the organization called LINKUP. This is an association of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It will be difficult for some victims to come to our campus because of their past experiences of what they have experienced as betrayal by those they should have been able to trust. We need to hear them more than they need to hear us and it is my hope that we will be mindful of the words of The Rule concerning the reception of guests:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35) . . . All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. (RB 53:1,6f)

from Abbot’s Letter to Community:

July 1994

We have had one conference here sponsored by the organization called LINKUP which in my estimation was very successful. There will be a larger meeting of that same group in August. LINKUP is an organization of victims of clergy sexual abuse and they are providing us with the opportunity to see firsthand the real damage done by sexual abuse and exploitation. As uncomfortable as this may make us feel it is necessary that we learn from them the true extent of the damage that has been done to them. We may wish at times that we could simply bury this whole business and maybe then it would go away. But it won’t. In their anger and pain victims sometimes strike out at us and make us feel abused in turn. But that is the price we may have to pay for the years when our culture decided that denial of responsibility would somehow be less damaging than facing the truth. I thank the community for supporting our efforts to live in the light. Is there in fact any other way to live if we sincerely claim to be followers of Christ who is the light of the world?

Welcome Remarks at The LINKUP Conference: Healing Toward Prevention

August 4, 1994

The revelation of sexual abuse and exploitation has embarrassed us, yes, but it has also revealed to us something of the hurt people are experiencing because of abuse.

from Conference on Monastic Environment:

September 20, 1994

An environment is never established by one person for the sake of that person alone. Environments by their very nature are inclusive of all who live in them. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of all who live together to support the environment that brings health and not destruction. In a monastery, everyone contributes to the environment one way or another and therefore each is accountable to all and especially to God for the way we have contributed to the formation of a community environment that supports the seeking of God.

Theoretically, we might agree to this. But when it comes down to our experience we might rather desire to avoid the reality of this proposition. For instance, in talking to members of the community I have sometimes discovered a desire to isolate ourselves from not only the consequences of negative behaviors but from any co‑responsibility for the context of such behaviors. Let me give you an example – and I use this example with a confrere’s permission.

This was at the time of the August meeting of the group called LINKUP that met here. Victims of clergy sexual abuse told stories and, I believe, opened the eyes of many of us to the real effects that sexual abuse and exploitation can have on victims. A confrere wondered out loud to me why he, who had never committed any kind of impropriety in his life, should have to suffer for what he had not done. Many of us can sympathize with this attitude. Yet we are not thereby freed from it, nor should we necessarily be! And why not?

Let me suggest that there is a call to each of us to create and support an environment that will foster good monastic life and that will detect and eliminate what endangers that life. For instance, a drug culture never gets imbedded someplace without the tacit consent of those who live there. Or, alcoholism finds a supportive ally in the silence of those who should care. One person said at the LINKUP conference that where there is sexual abuse there is nearly always someone else who knew what was going on and kept silent. This is what is called “enabling” behavior. Has there been such an enabling environment in some religious communities that in the name of not wanting to get involved allowed unhealthy attitudes to flourish to the detriment eventually not only of the immediate victims but of the wider community as well?

from a Letter to a Parishioner Whose Priest was Recalled to the Abbey Because of Sexual Misconduct:

December 6, 1994

Yours is the kind of letter that I simply do not want to make a quick response to, for it speaks out of a depth of feeling and compassion that I believe requires more than a so‑so response. I could give you all the external and surface reasons why the action that was taken was in fact taken and then leave it at that.

There are reasons for doing what was done and, I believe, these must be respected. If we could separate the Church from all institutional forms I suppose another way of responding might be possible. We live in a highly litigious society where doctors have to pay outrageous amounts for insurance coverage, and anyone who might be a frequent target of law suits can be brought to bankruptcy in no time even because of litigation where they win! When the law suits come in everyone who might be able to contribute to the settlement is included, and in this case that would be the abbey, the diocese, the local parish. This of course means that it is not institutions that get hit so hard but the individuals in those institutions who are served by them.

But there is a more important aspect that I would like to concentrate on here. I always wonder why there is pain in our lives and whether or not there is anything salvific about it. My experience would tell me that there is, whether that pain is caused by others or by our own failures. One thing that does come clearer is that there is no such thing as a totally isolated act that doesn’t have bearing on the lives of others. This helps me understand the concept of original sin. Because I am not a better follower of Christ there are others in this world who have not come to know him as he would be known. And because as a follower of Christ I have betrayed others in some way, the only way some would have known him has in some way been vitiated by my own carelessness.

This is why in cases of sexual abuse and exploitation we insist on putting first the victim. The obligation of the Christian is to be hospitable and receive Christ in the other. Abuse and exploitation is an inhospitable act, and the primary duty then is to repair the damage of inhospitality. Each person must be aware that sinning against another has dimensions of hurt that spread far beyond the individual sinned against and touch with inhospitality even people unknown. If there is pain for you and for others in the parish because of what has happened and the actions taken by the abbey and the archdiocese, know that this is a pain that can teach us something about the real problem of sin in this world.

One other thing that strikes me is what this pain has done to the accused person. At first it is clearly not pleasant. But it does have its positive side as well. One of the reasons that you found him to be so kind and compassionate is that he has grown through the years as a result of his own journeying through this trauma in years past. He is a good man and he has grown greatly as a result of what he has had to go through.

Finally, I would have you be assured that in his current position here he is doing an outstanding job. Again, I believe he is who he is today because he has endured this pain and has chosen to allow it to mature him and bring him to a deeper understanding of others’ pain. Many are still touched by his ministry and will continue to be blessed as he continues to let God bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in him.

When these events occurred that took him from the parish back to St. John’s I was rector of the seminary and not in administration in the abbey. However, I would be dishonest if I told you other than that I would likely have handled the situation in the same way. I believe there was no other choice. You may not agree with this, but I hope you can at least see the honesty of another viewpoint.

My prayer is that for all who have suffered through these events and continue to do so will see their opportunity to grow in love, compassion and mercy. May the Advent season build in all of us the hope and trust that is ours in God’s sending of the Son.

from Abbot’s Letter to the Community:

May 1996

The board of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute (ISTI) met in April. It is a working board made up of very talented people who really put their hearts and souls into this project. A number of publications have already emerged from their efforts and more are coming. At this meeting Phyllis Willerscheidt was elected chairperson of the ISTI board and Patrick Carnes was elected vice chairperson. These are three year terms. Father Dale Launderville and Dr. Regina Wolfe of our school of theology faculty gave presentations as theological input for the board. In the coming academic year Father Roman Paur will be giving a report to the community on the activities and accomplishments of the board these past several years. I am grateful to Father Roman and all from the community who have given so generously of their time in the development and ongoing work of ISTI.

Sexual Abuse: Long-Term Effects on Abusers and on Faith Communities: A Theological Reflection

October 25, 1997

. . . we came to know sin in a different light, sin as an abuse of power, a taking from someone or doing to someone what is a violation of boundaries, an invasion of another’s person for the sake of selfish satisfaction. . .

But we as the ministers of that healing had lost our credibility, and so often where people should have been able to come to receive God’s word, was the last place they ever wanted to see again. . .

. . . we have been victimized by the events ourselves and have had to learn how to deal with the impossible task of undoing the harm done to others, while dealing with our own sense of outrage and wounding done to us by the acts of our own members. . .

from The Desire for God Conference:

March 10, 1998

Self‑love becomes easily the abuse of others over whom we are able to exercise power. It is like rape, or sexual abuse, or any kind of power abuse that would diminish others for the sake of enhancing one’s own self, the antithesis of service, of real love. This is opposed to the reign of God. It is a search for being “just like God” in dominion, but not in love. This is why the Book of Revelation can say, “the legacy for cowards, for those who break their word, or worship obscenities, for murderers and the sexually immoral, and for sorcerers, worshippers of false gods or any other sort of liars, is the second death.”

from Fully Mature with the Fullness of Christ Himself:

December 21, 1999

We are all shaped in our ability to receive and give love by our experiences of having been loved or rejected, of having been cherished for who we are or for having been abused as though that abuse were love. We have all grown up with a mixture of experiences.

The sexually abused, for instance, learned many things through their experience of abuse. For some it became difficult not to equate love with the sexual abuse, and that could only be a bogus love. The abuse was so traumatic and destructive that it stands in the way of ever again accepting love, even from God. They think they have learned that love violates their person. Who could ever willingly accept such love again?

One has to learn that abuse that goes by the name of love cannot be love at all because it is not a faithful love. Faithful love is very different, because when abusive love is satisfied it rejects the one supposedly loved, where genuine faithful love will die for the other. We have learned to love by our experience of having been loved. The love Jesus manifested is God’s own love and that love has been faithful since the beginning of creation.

Sometimes people protect themselves even from this love because they have experienced love as taking from them rather than giving to them. It is as though they would say, “if I accept God’s love I will be raped of my dignity, of my very personhood.” Intellectually we know this is not right, but emotionally our experience can easily impede our hearts from allowing that love in.

We have become self‑protective and have learned through sad experi ence that the only way to love another is by taking from them instead of giving to them. This is where the abused sometimes becomes the abuser, where counterfeit love is mistaken for the thing and the abuser does not even recognize the difference.

We do not go through life innocent of the abuse of power, whether that be the power that abused us or our power that has abused others. That, after all, is the meaning of sin. Sexual abuse is not the only abuse of power there is, though it certainly is one of the most traumatic forms. All manipulative exploitation of others for one’s own profit is abuse and rejects the gospel of reconciliation.

from Abbot’s Letter to the Community:

April 2000

The Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute will again be holding a conference this summer, from June 11 to 13. The topic will be, Desire: Spirituality and Sexuality. Having this kind of resource right here is a real blessing to us and I very much encourage members of the community to participate. The abbey’s financial contribution covers the tuition of all Saint John’s monks. However, it is important that you register in advance by calling Father Roman at 3994 to register, or complete the registration form in the conference brochure and return it to ISTI.

from Conference on Abbatial Election:

May 30, 2000

Finally, I would like to address a most uncomfortable issue that had much publicity prior to my election and for some time after I became abbot. That is the issue of sexual abuse. I have no intention of opening old wounds. Rather, I would like to bring you up‑to‑date and perhaps disabuse you of the idea that these are issues now in our past. It has been years since we have had media attention on the issue, but that might be because it seems not newsworthy anymore. The issues remain and we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent about them.

. . . We have supplied financial aid for counseling for people seriously wounded by their experience. The likelihood is that the next abbot will have the same ongoing experience of having to deal with these kinds of situations and he will need the understanding of the community and your support to endure what has probably been the most painful aspect of what a community asks an abbot to do. This is not a plea for sympathy, but simply a request that we keep daily before our eyes the reality of the damage done in the past and how careful we must be, now, that this ceases for the future.

Aside from legal costs in making settlements, we have expended much money on care for the accused monks. Residential treatment facilities are, frankly, expensive. Relatively speaking, victims do not have access to these same resources. This is why we established the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute that exists to address issues of institutional systemic structures that in past and even now tend to support abusive relationships even unintentionally. What it has cost us to sponsor ISTI does not approach what abuse has cost victims.

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Topics: Dale Launderville, Dietrich Reinhart, Finian McDonald, ISTI, Letters to Community, LINKUP, Michael Naughton, Roman Paur, Timothy Kelly

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