by Dennis Dalman
A 50-year-old man who alleges a monk sexually abused him 36 years ago recently filed a lawsuit against the monk and the Order of St. Benedict, which includes St. John’s Prep School and St. John’s Abbey.
Ed “Troy” Bramlage, who lives in Sauk Rapids, alleges Order of St. Benedict officials at the school and abbey knew about Father Gilbert Allen Tarlton’s history of abusing children and did nothing about it, making it possible for him to abuse more boys, including Bramlage, the suit alleges. Bramlage, is asking for $50,000 in damages.
At a press conference June 5 in Waite Park, Bramlage said the reason he filed the lawsuit is to give hope to other children who were or are being abused so they can come forward and get help and so their perpetrators can be stopped. He said if he can help even one victim of abuse feel less fearful to come forward to get help, his effort will have been worth it.
Bramlage’s lawsuit was made possible by a new Minnesota law that went into effect May 31. Dubbed the “Child Victims Act,” it removes the statute-of-limitations restrictions for filing lawsuits regarding past sexual abuse. For cases that occurred in the past, victims who are now older than 24 will have up to three years to file lawsuits. That is the case with Bramlage, who is now 50. The Child Victims Act also allows any person now 18 or under an unlimited amount of time to file lawsuits.
At the press conference, Bramlage was accompanied by Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney; and Michael Bryant, an attorney with the Waite Park-based law firm of Bradshaw and Bryant. This is the fifth time Anderson has been involved in sexual-abuse complaints filed against Tarlton.
Bramlage, who was born and raised in St. Paul, was a student at St. John’s Prep School in 1977 when he was 14 and when the alleged multiple acts of sexual abuse occurred, according to the lawsuit. At the time, Tarlton taught English at the prep school.
Bramlage said his life had many times spun out of control because of feelings related to the sexual abuse. At the time he told nobody because of shame and because he thought he would not be believed. In the years following he often felt a sense of self-loathing and disgust because he would think the abuse was his fault. His silence troubled him because he thought it might have allowed his perpetrator to keep harming other boys.
Other suits against Tarlton have been settled or dropped because the statute of limitations had run out. In 1992, a civil suit alleged Tarlton had abused a boy in 1982 when he was the boy’s teacher and counselor, but that suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.
Anderson and Bryant praised Bramlage for his courage in coming forth. The Order of St. Benedict, Anderson said, had developed a clerical culture that protected predators in a shroud of secrecy and denial. Officials at the prep school and university, Anderson claims, were fully aware of Tarlton’s past and the many accusations that had been leveled against him. The parents of students were never warned and the abuse of boys and the cover-ups continued, Anderson alleged in the lawsuit.
In 2002, the Order of St. Benedict faced a lawsuit and began to cooperate with those concerned about reports of abuse, Anderson noted. A list of known offenders was released by the abbey, and Anderson was allowed to appoint half of the members of a board of review that examined past and ongoing cases of alleged abuse. It was a very positive step, Anderson said, but he quickly added that, in his opinion, the promise of a new open process and a new spirit of cooperation have not been fulfilled.
On the day of the press conference, St. John’s Abbey released a statement saying the abbey will continue to work to establish facts regarding the allegations against Tarlton.
The following three paragraphs are from the abbey statement:
“We hope everyone concedes the difficult challenge of determining the facts of incidents alleged to have occurred in 1977, nearly four decades ago. As Mr. (attorney Jeff) Anderson’s client (Bramlage) himself acknowledged in today’s press conference, his own memory of the facts is incomplete. In spite of these shared challenges, our commitment is to be guided by compassion and our pastoral responsibilities.
“In the past we have worked in good faith with Anderson and other attorneys. We have been forthcoming and acknowledged the occasions when members of our community harmed others. The agreements we have made with Anderson, other attorneys and clients have been faithfully fulfilled. Mr. Anderson is incorrect in suggesting otherwise. We hope as this case moves forward, Mr. Anderson will be guided only by the best interests and eventual healing of his client.
“We will thoroughly research and review the allegations presented today against Fr. Allen Tarlton. He was removed from duties at Prep (school) more than two decades ago. He lives in a restricted environment under close supervision and has not had contact with the students at St. John’s Prep or St. John’s University.”
Tarlton joined St. John’s Abbey in 1948. In 1953, he was assigned as an English teacher to the St. John’s Prep School. Two years later, he was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. In 1957, he began work as an English professor at St. John’s University.
Starting in 1960, Tarlton began a long series of treatments through the coming decades for alcoholism and sexuality issues at such treatment centers as the Seton Psychological Institute in Baltimore, Md.; Hazelden in Center City, Minn.; and the St. Cloud Hospital.
Throughout his life, Tarlton taught at various places, including the prep school, SJU and a school in the Bahamas.
Tarlton also changed his name at various times. In 1977, for instance, he changed his name from Allen Berry to Allen Tarlton.
In 1992, two students complained about Tarlton to the St. John’s abbot, after which Tarlton was removed from the prep school. At that time, according to Anderson’s report, one of Tarlton’s therapists reported Tarlton had had sexual contact with students from 1955-1961.
In 1994, Tarlton was named guestmaster at the abbey. The next year he was named assistant director of oblates at the abbey and later, in 1997, after another round of psychological-medical treatment, he was appointed director of oblates. In 2002, St. John’s Abbey placed Tarlton on living restrictions at the abbey because of the sexual-abuse reports.
Tarlton served in one or more capacities at various times at St. John’s Abbey, St. John’s Prep School and St. John’s University: from 1948-1960, from 1973-1980 and from 1992 to the present. In the gaps between those years, he had various jobs punctuated frequently by treatments for alcohol and sexual issues, and some of the treatments were extended, lasting up to a year. His jobs included teaching English at St. Augustine’s College in the Bahamas (1964-65 and again in 1967-68). According to information in the lawsuit, he was removed both times from the teaching assignments in the Bahamas for personal problems, once because he allegedly struck another teacher. He also was an assistant pastor and a teacher at a grade school, both in Cincinatti, Ohio (1969); and he taught at a school in Louisville, Ken. (1972).
Tarlton currently lives under restricted conditions at St. John’s Abbey.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul-based trial lawyer, is internationally known as a pioneer in sexual-abuse litigation. He has represented thousands of survivors of sexual abuse by authority figures and clergy.
Michael Bryant, St. Cloud, has more than 20 years of experience as a personal-injury attorney and has teamed up with Anderson to help sexual-abuse survivors in Minnesota.