Panel demands stringent safety against clergy abuse

by Dennis Dalman

There are 14 priests or monks living at the St. John’s Abbey who may still pose a danger to children, according to two attorneys, a former monk and two grown men who say they were abused by priests when they were children.

A press conference Feb. 4 at the Bradshaw and Bryant law firm in Waite Park featured the following speakers: Jeff Anderson, a Twin Cities attorney widely known for his prosecution of clergy sex-abuse cases; Mike Bryant of the Waite Park firm; Pat Wall, a former monk at St. John’s Abbey who assists attorney Anderson; Peggy LaDue, executive director of the Central Minnesota Sexual Abuse Center; and two men who say they were abused by priests many years ago – Troy Bramlage and Bob Ethan, both from the St. Cloud area.

All of the speakers took issue with comments about safety made by St. Cloud Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Kettler and St. John’s Abbey Abbot John Klassen. At a recent public discussion with the St. Cloud Times editorial board, Kettler and Klassen said all the names have been released of priests or monks who had been accused of “credible” reports of sexual abuse against minors. They also said a safety program now in place is effective in guarding against any future abuse by clergy.

Those at the press conference strongly disagreed with both of those contentions. Anderson said there are more names that must be released and that the safety program is inadequate because it still allows priests likely to re-offend ample time to travel freely and to circulate freely on campus and throughout the entire area.

Anderson had intended to show a tape of a legal deposition taken of Fr. Allen Tarlton, who is part of a lawsuit filed by Troy Bramlage, who accused Tarlton of molesting him during the 1970s. Anderson said the video clearly demonstrates why current safety precautions are not adequate. The video, however, could not be shown at the press conference because of a last-minute judge’s decision. It will, Anderson said, hopefully be shown to the public in the near future.

Statements by Klassen and Kettler have been misleading and incorrect, misrepresenting the truth, according to Anderson. He bluntly stated they and others have concealed or minimized what has really been happening at St. John’s Abbey and in the St. Cloud Catholic Diocese. Anderson gave three reasons for his contention: missing names on list of clergy charged with credible offenses; a lack of transparency and accountability regarding clergy offenders; and “deeply disturbing” safety plans that are not adequate.

While safety plans may state those clergy cannot be working closely around children, priests or monks with credible previous charges against them are virtually free to go and to do whatever they like, Anderson maintained.

For years, Anderson and others have requested dioceses far and wide to release lists of the names of clergy accused of credible offenses. In 2005, St. John’s Abbey created a review board, the result of a legal settlement and later a list of names was released. Recently, the St. Cloud Catholic Diocese also released a list of names, but since then there has been a retreat from transparency and accountability, Anderson charged.

“We are tired of promises made and promises broken,” he said.

Bramlage said he has watched the video of Tarlton’s legal deposition, even though watching it was a painful experience. He said he is worried Tarlton and others are still free to harm other children. That, he said, is the reason he brought a lawsuit against Tarlton and church officials – to stop the harm done to children.

Attorney Bryant said “structural pedophiles” (a psychiatric definition) have been known to prey upon not just children but the elderly, the sick and the mentally impaired. Allowing priests or monks known to have offended to range freely should worry and frighten the public, he said.

Pat Wall was a monk at the Abbey from 1983 to 1990. He said he personally knew how officials would handle charges of pedophilia. In the case of Tarlton, for example, he was compelled by officials to do in-patient treatment four times, but after each treatment he was reassigned to ministry work and re-offended yet again. At the Abbey and on the St. John’s University campus, there are more children than ever before in history, Wall said, adding current safety policies won’t work.

“Kids are not going to be safe,” he said.

Ethan has filed a suit against Fr. James A. Thoennes, whom Ethan claims abused him when he was child in the St. Cloud Catholic Diocese. Being abused, Ethan said, is like being sentenced to carry a “heavy load” the rest of one’s life. As a father and grandfather, Ethan said he doesn’t want to hear of other children abused the way he was. Ethan said the public should know who covered up for offending clergy, that people should “quit the lying” and that incomplete offender lists should be made complete.

“Kids are still at risk,” he said.

LaDue, who has worked extensively with victims of sexual abuse, said she would like to know who came up with current safety plans and what advice they used in drafting such plans. She also said she has concerns about who is monitoring and how the plans are enforced.

Survivors of abuse, LeDue said, have a deep-seated need to be validated, to let others know they did not imagine or make up their charges against the offenders. Too often, she said, victims are afraid to speak up for fear of not being believed. That is why it’s important, she said, the truth come out – to validate the survivors so they can become “thrivers,” not just survivors.

Anderson asked rhetorically: How many of the clergy whose names are on the lists have ever been incarcerated for their alleged crimes? The answer, he said, is “Zero.”

He claimed church officials made “conscious choices” to put such offenders repeatedly in a position of trust to “offend and re-offend again.”

Anderson and others at the Feb. 4 press conference intend to announce a public forum within a month somewhere in the St. Cloud area – a forum where safety concerns can be discussed and scrutinized. He invited Kettler and Klassen to participate in the forum.

photo by Dennis Dalman
Officials gathered Feb. 3 in Waite Park to discuss security issues concerning priests who have records of sexually abusing minors. From left to right are Mike Bryant, Waite Park-based attorney; Jeff Anderson, Twin Cities attorney; Peggy LaDue, executive director of the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center; and Bob Ethan, a victim of sexual abuse when he was a child.

Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman
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