Your Turn: Abbot deserves credit for being transparent

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The Times Editorial Board has called on the St. John’s Abbey External Review Board to “share with the public what they know, their opinions on whether (Pat) Marker’s claims have veracity and if abbey leaders did do all they could to protect potential victims. (Times Our View “Abbey needs to address allegations with public,” Aug. 25.)

Protection of children is the board’s highest priority. We believe assessment and supervision of offenders are the essential foundation for protecting children and young adults from sexual abuse.

With the exception of Pat Marker, board members have expressed satisfaction with the work of the board and are enthusiastic about the cooperation of Abbot John Klassen, who engaged Project Pathfinders to assess and recommend safety plans for monk offenders. (This was completed in June 2005.)

All known offenders have supervision plans that are reviewed by the board. When new allegations emerge, or when breaches of supervision plans occur, the board will oversee accountability and consequences, including bringing those to law enforcement when appropriate.

The board also has been an advocate for creating opportunities for victims to heal, including publicly disclosing names of offending monks. Klassen acted on the board’s recommendation to contract with the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis and has advertised this service for victims. He also met with parishioners where the Rev. Robert Blumeyer (now deceased) served to reach out to potential victims.

Case history

The case of the Rev. Michael Bik includes an abbey decision to retain Bik in work assignments at St. John’s Preparatory School and the university in 1997 that is congruent with a church history of denial and minimization that has caused profound damage.

We would never defend nor try to explain that action. The board was formed in 2003. When we learned of Bik’s abuse history while he was a Catholic School teacher in the 1970s, Bik had been removed from work assignments with students and placed under supervision.

The editorial board’s implied link of public disclosure to protection of children is misleading.

In the public realm, disclosure of sexual offenses is limited to the most high-risk offenders. Law enforcement practice apparently would not support a contention that failure to disclose the names of these monk offenders would place children at risk.

Why then, does the review board promote such disclosure, and why has Klassen publicly acknowledged the abuses? It is to validate victims’ experiences and enable the healing process – a healing process essential for all who have been betrayed by the Catholic Church’s secrecy.

We suggest Klassen’s actions be considered in the context of our times. Consider the lawsuit brought against the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops by the parents of the Wisconsin homicide victim demanding disclosure of the names of priest offenders, as well as a similar lawsuit against the Crosier Fathers.

Strong leadership

While the review board shares Marker’s discouragement that our recommendation for disclosure was not acted upon for many months, in light of this historical and cultural context, we applaud Klassen’s move as remarkably courageous.

We see his actions as those of a leader in changing the church’s climate of secrecy, a leader whose actions should be emulated by bishops and superiors of religious orders nationwide. Let’s not crucify one of the most transparent religious orders for “not doing enough.” Rather, let us continue to promote and expect additional growth in transparency and outreach to victims.

Finally, the board would like to respond to the call to “share with the public what they know.”

The board frequently deals with sensitive, confidential information. To have access to information necessary to our role, we readily agreed to be bound by an ethical and legal confidentiality agreement. In our professions as attorneys, psychotherapists, judges, etc., we understand the nature of confidentiality. It enhances rather than impedes our work.

If at any time, board members believe we are “being prevented from helping” victims, we would discontinue our work. On the contrary, remaining board members are committed to continuing a process we see as vital and fruitful.

This the opinion of Dr. Catherine Lally, chairperson of the St. John’s Abbey External Review Board.

Your Turn: Abbot deserves credit for being transparent
By Dr. Catherine Lally Chairperson, St. John’s Abbey External Review Board
Published: September 03. 2006
St. Cloud Times Opinion

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Topics: John Klassen, Kate Lally, Michael Bik, Opinion, Pat Marker, Robert Blumeyer

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