Lawyer to Abbey: Follow Settlement

ST. PAUL – The lawyer who represented numerous alleged victims of clergy sex abuse in what was hailed as a landmark settlement agreement with St. John’s Abbey on Friday accused Abbot John Klassen of failing to live up to terms of that agreement.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson bases his accusation on questions about the past of a priest recently appointed to the External Review Board, which was created as a result of the settlement.

The Abbey issued a brief statement Friday afternoon that said it would not discuss in the media any allegations against a member of its monastic community. The statement further said that the Abbey would not allow unverified, hearsay allegations to destroy the reputation of one of its own.

That statement came about two hours after Anderson called for the removal of the Rev. Thomas Andert as a member of the External Review Board because of allegations that Andert acted improperly with regards to a student while Andert was headmaster of the St. John’s Prep School. That occurred in the mid-1990s, Anderson contended. The university knew about the allegations against Andert as early as 1995, Anderson argued.

This year Klassen appointed Andert to the External Review Board and appointed him prior in the Abbey.

The review board was created in the agreement Anderson and Klassen reached in 2002 to settle claims made by several victims of St. John’s Abbey members.

The position of prior essentially puts Andert as second-in-command of the Abbey. The prior acts in the capacity of the abbot when the abbot is away.

In addition to asking for Andert’s removal as a member of the review board, Anderson also called for Klassen to appoint a second victim-survivor to the review board. Pat Marker resigned from the board several months ago in protest of what he called the board’s inaction on sex abuse issues.

Marker on Friday called for Andert’s removal as prior. Marker has yet to be replaced on the review board by another victim-survivor, Anderson contended.

In addition to Andert’s appointment to the board, the Rev. Gordon Tavis also has been appointed to the review board. The 2002 agreement between Klassen and Anderson’s clients called for two victim-survivors on the board and doesn’t address how many, if any, clergy members should be appointed.

“Obviously they’ve lost their way and violated the agreement, and everyone I represent has been violated,” Anderson said. “I’m saddened by it.”

The statement issued Friday by Abbey spokesman Rev. William Skudlarek said allegations against Andert in 1994 led to “an intensive internal investigation” and that the student met with then-Abbot Timothy Kelly and “denied that any sexual misconduct had occurred.”

“The investigation revealed no credible charges of sexual abuse,” the statement reads. “St. John’s Abbey will not allow the destruction of any person’s reputation and good name on the basis of unverified public charges that often include false or misleading information and hearsay. Nor will the Abbey engage in a discussion in the media of allegations of abuse against a member of the monastic community.”

Anderson and Marker said they brought their concerns about Andert to the review board while Marker was still a member of the board.

Anderson isn’t planning any lawsuits against the Abbey for now and hopes his public appeal will be more effective than a letter he sent in July to Klassen addressing the makeup of the review board.

He hasn’t received a response to that letter, he said.

“I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said Friday. “I believe they have faltered and fallen, and what we’re doing today is to acknowledge that and to bring them back.”

By David Unze,