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Abuse victims settle with St. John's Abbey
By Tim Post
Minnesota Public Radio
October 1, 2002

Officials with St. John's Abbey have settled a dozen cases of abuse by monks in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The victims will receive a payment from the Abbey, although the amount isn't being made public. Both sides say the most important part of the settlement is the formation an independent board of review. The board will be appointed by victims and will investigate accusations of abuse.

Al Vogel (left) with his parents after the abuse settlement was announced. Vogel says the new approach toward sexual abuse at St. John's Abbey should be a model across the nation.
(MPR Photo/Tim Post)

Abbot John Klassen, the leader of St. John's Abbey, is publicly apologizing to those abused by monks at St. John's.

"On behalf of St. John's Abbey and on behalf of the monks who offended against you I offer you my deepest and sincerest apology. What happned to you should not have happened. I cannot express in words my sorrow, my grief for that happen and please except my apology," Klassen says.

Klassen joined together with Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney representing a dozen abuse victims, to announce a settlement. The victims will be compensated and money will come from the Abbey's resources, not from St. John's University. That figure isn't being made public by St. John's or the victims. But they say the most important part of the settlement is a new approach to investigating abuse. The settlement calls for the development of a review board.

The board would be independent of the church and its members would be former victims of abuse, law enforcement officials, and mental health professionals among others. St. John's Abbey has been criticized in the past for its internal approach to sexual abuse.

There are 11 monks and priests at St. John's currently living under restriction. Abbot John Klassen says the board will place the abuse policy at St. John's Abbey in the hands of lay people.

"The board will review policy, handle specific allegations, and will perhaps suggest possible avenues for settling cases and it will also review what we are doing in terms of prevention," Klassen says.

Attorney Jeff Anderson praised Klassen and St. John's Abbey for their cooperation in the settlement. Anderson says the settlement shows that clergy sexual abuse victims will no longer be ignored by the church. And he hopes church officials across the country pay attention to the innovative plan.

"And use what has happened here as a model for how we go and where we go in the future. To help in healing the wounds, and to do everything we can together so it does not continue and we can together prevent it happening in the future," Anderson says.

Anderson says the settlement should help change what he sees as a culture of secrecy surrounding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Victims of clergy abuse represented in the settlement say they're confident St. John's Abbey officials will hold to their promises.

Ray Vogel's three sons were abused by priests at St. John's. Vogel says this is the type of settlement he's always wanted.

"I prayed a long time to see this and I will never stop praying that God will keep people with strength in this place to lead not to hide wrongdoing of that nature," Vogel says.

Al Vogel, one of Ray Vogel's sons, says the settlement represents a new recognition of victims. And he says it's a challenge for other church leaders around the country.

"The bar has been raised so high that the rest of the country is going to have to look at this as a model and either inch up to the bar, or pale in comparison," Vogel says.

The independent review board will be in place by June 2003.

More from MPR
  • Audio: Abbot Klassen Abbot John Klassen explains St. John's Abbey's new approach to sexual abuse. Klassen says the new plan will put lay people, independent of the church, in charge of sexual abuse policy.
  • Audio: Therapist Richard Sipe Sipe is a nationally recognized psychotherapist who specializes in priest-abuse issues, and a former monk at St. John's Abbey. He says the settlement is a positive step.