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2 File New Suit Against St. John's

Jun 7, 2002 | St. Paul Pioneer Press

Attorney Jeff Anderson filed another lawsuit Thursday in his campaign to knock down what he says is a wall of secrecy around the priests at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

Anderson filed the suit on behalf of two men who claimed two priests abused them while they were students at St. John's Preparatory School in the 1980s. However, the suit seeks damages for fraud and deceit as well as sexual abuse. Anderson said the strategy was designed to get around the statute of limitations on sexual-abuse claims and to prod the abbey and its order to provide the names of all the priests and their victims.

The St. Paul attorney filed the suit in Stearns County District Court on behalf of Bill Quenroe and another man identified only as John Doe. The two men claim the Revs. Dunstan Moorse and Allen Tarlton abused them. The suit also mentioned numerous other priests and victims.

"We hope this suit will get the order to break its secrecy," Anderson said at a news conference in nearby St. Cloud, Minn.

Anderson charged the abbey had committed fraud and deceit by covering up the abuse. In doing so, he said, the abbey deceived the public, local police and alumni into believing the preparatory school and college were safe places.

Abbey spokesman the Rev. William Skudlarek said the St. John's Abbey community was saddened by the abuse allegations but committed to supporting people who come forward with allegations against members of the monastery.

"In a sense, what it does is intensify the determination of the abbot and the whole community to reach out to anyone who may have been hurt, to invite them to come forward and to assure them that they will be heard and that we will respond to them," Skudlarek said.

The priests named in the lawsuits are among the 13 monks whom Abbot John Klassen last month said were living under restrictions at the abbey. That means they have been the subjects of "credible accusations" of sexual misconduct. Monks on restricted status cannot work as parish priests or have one-on-one contact with minors, and are barred from some areas, such as the prep school or the college.

Both have previously admitted to sexual misconduct, the abbey has indicated.

Quenroe told his story on the steps of the Stearns County Courthouse. So did three other men who previously filed suits against the abbey. A fifth man also spoke, saying a monk who had not been named previously abused him.

Anderson used those testimonials, along with abbey documents and other lawsuits, to bolster his contention that the leadership of the Order of St. Benedict has known about the abuse for three decades and kept it secret. While the suit also seeks monetary damages, Anderson said he and the victims want other things, as well.

They want all the offenses by men of the order disclosed and those men removed from the clergy. They also want no secret settlements with victims, a warning to the public of any of the priests who have committed abuse in the past and all the files turned over to the sheriff's department for investigation, Anderson said.

Quenroe said his experiences could be called "abuse, or you could call it rape.'' The alleged abuse happened in 1981 when he was about 16 and he went to Moorse for counseling. Quenroe said that when he was 29 he was going through a divorce and tried to commit suicide. As he was recovering in the hospital, he saw a counselor and went to the abbey for help in paying for therapy, he said.

The abbey agreed to pay, but first required him to sign a document saying he wouldn't go after the school, Quenroe said. When he returned for more counseling earlier this year, abbey officials couldn't find the original agreement and required him to sign another one. But this time he refused, Quenroe said.

"I don't know what the answer is, but they have to change, and they can't if they keep it silent,'' Quenroe said.

Under abbey policy, people who receive money from the abbey because of abuse allegations must agree not to disclose the dollar amount of their settlement and must acknowledge that the settlement cannot be used as an admission of guilt in any subsequent legal proceeding. Such agreements do not prevent victims from telling their stories or seeking further compensation through legal action, Skudlarek said.

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