Sex Abuse Lawsuit Filed Against Minnesota Monastery

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

CORRECTION: Corrects municipal location of monastary

( - Less than a week before the U.S. Catholic bishops are set to meet in Dallas to adopt a nation-wide policy on dealing with priests found guilty of sexually abusing minors, a lawsuit against a Minnesota monastery was announced Thursday.

The suit accuses St. John's Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minn. for failing to take appropriate action regarding the alleged sexual abuse of two men who attended the abbey's prep school in the 1980s.

Fran Ballion, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, said the timing of the announcement wasn't deliberately planned to precede the bishops' conference, but admitted it might highlight the problems in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church.

"As with many of these things, it is the way things just work out," Ballion said. "We were aware of the bishop's conference occurring, but we thought this was right time to announce this."

"Certainly it does highlight [the problems within the church], and I hope it points out to them the issues that need to be addressed," Ballion said.

The lawsuit is being filed in the Stearns County (Minn.) District Court on behalf of two men who now live in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.

The men claim two priests from the abbey, Fr. Allen Taralton and Fr. Dunston Morse, sexually abused them when they attended the Abbey at St. John's, a preparatory school run by the monastery.

One defendant, Bill Quenroe, claims he was abused in 1981. Another plaintiff, who was not immediately named, alleges he was abused in 1985.

The lawsuit claims the abbey and the Order of St. Benedict are guilty of fraud, deception, negligence and concealment of abusive priests at the abbey since the 1960s.

Fr. William Skudlarek, spokesman for St. John's Abbey, said the community of monks is saddened by the lawsuits but admitted sexual misconduct by monks has occurred in the past.

"There is a sense of profound sadness here, about the pain people have suffered from incidents that are alleged to have taken place 20 years ago," Skudlarek said. "That doesn't in any way minimize the seriousness of the allegation, and we continue to be concerned and committed to the healing of these victims."

St. John's adopted a policy in 1989 on how to deal with such problems. That policy includes, among other things, an investigation by the abbot.

If the inquiry determines actual abuse, it is followed by mandatory therapy for the offending monk and pastoral counseling for the victim, along with notification of civil authorities.

"In any case that anybody came forth with an allegation on sexual misconduct, it was dealt with exactly following the policy," Skudlarek said.

The policy also allows the abbey to expel the offending monk, but that step has never been taken.

Skudlarek said that in several cases, actual abuse had been discovered at the monastery, and the stated policy had been observed, but Skudlarek said that in no case was a monk expelled.

Instead of expulsion, Skudlarek said the offending monks "have all been receptive, they have admitted their error, they have accepted their therapy, gone through an aftercare program, they all have accepted the restrictions put on their ministry and social contacts."

Skudlarek said that in all the cases, the social restrictions placed on the guilty monks involve "not only about being around children, but around all vulnerable people."

But Ballion argues if the monastery had better implemented its policy, the lawsuit could have been avoided.

"If they did [use their policy], they should have found our two guys, but they never did, and these people came to us," Ballion said.

E-mail a news tip to Jason Pierce.

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