St. John’s Abbey responds to sexual abuse lawsuit, says it will seek the truth

Categories: Around the Diocese

May 23, 2014, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

St. John’s Abbey will cooperate to seek the truth in regards to the allegations against Benedictine Father Richard Eckroth, according to a statement released by the abbey.

Benedictine Father Eckroth is the center of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed May 19 in Stearns County. The complaint alleges Father Eckroth repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiffs, Doe 33 and Doe 34, when they were between the ages of 8 and 13 in the early 1970s.

In its statement, St. John’s said that there have been credible claims of inappropriate behavior by Father Eckroth, but also conflicting testimony regarding the allegations. Sorting out the truth of the allegations against Father Eckroth is complicated because of the priest’s advanced dementia, the statement read.

Father Eckroth has had dementia for more than a decade and the disease has taken an increasingly serious toll on his health and cognitive abilities, according to the statement. The priest, the statement continues, has lived under close monitoring because of the disease and the restrictions imposed on him.

The complaint alleges that Father Eckroth engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with Doe 33, who was 8-10 years old at the time, and Doe 34, who was 10-13 years old at the time, on weekend trips to a cabin around 1970-73.

It alleges that St. John’s is guilty of nuisance, negligence, negligent supervision and negligent retention.

According to the complaint, Doe 33 and Doe 34 suffered severe and permanent emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, humiliation, physical, personal and psychological injuries, were prevented from performing normal daily activities and will continue to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment, therapy and counseling.

The plaintiffs are suing St. John’s in excess of $50,000 plus costs, disbursements, reasonable attorney’s fees and interest. They request that St. John’s publicly release the names and documents on all clerics credibly accused of child molestation, including the clerics’ history of abuse, their pattern of grooming and sexual behavior and last known address.

At a press conference held May 19 in St. Paul, Jeff Anderson said Father Eckroth is known for abusing “many” children.

Father Eckroth would often bring kids to a cabin. More than 360 kids accompanied him to the cabin, according to a list Anderson held at the press conference.

The press conference also released the files of five St. John’s Abbey priests who served in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis: Fathers Robert Blumeyer, Cosmas Dahlheimer, Thomas Gillespie, Francis Hoefgen and Brennan Maiers. The files were obtained in a lawsuit filed in Ramsey County in 2013.

Lloyd Van Vleet spoke at the press conference about why he chose to speak out after being abused by Father Blumeyer.

“If I can touch one person out there and let them know it’s okay to come forward and share and be helped, that’s why I’m here today,” he said. “So one person can be helped by this.”

In its statement, St. John’s noted that it made public more than 10 years ago the names of the five monks named at the press conference. St. John’s has complied with all court orders it has received to produce documents, the statement said.

“As a community, St. John’s holds any form of sexual abuse to be morally reprehensible and a violation of our vow to a celibate and chaste life committed to mutual respect among all persons,” the statement said. “We are committed to doing everything possible to assure that the mistakes of our past are not repeated.”