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Jeff Anderson sues St. John's Abbey, releases files of five accused monks

From left, attorney Mike Bryant, Lloyd Van Vleet, attorney Jeff Anderson, and priest-turned-whistleblower Patrick Wall
From left, attorney Mike Bryant, Lloyd Van Vleet, attorney Jeff Anderson, and priest-turned-whistleblower Patrick Wall

Father Richard Eckroth sexually abused two boys at a northern Minnesota cabin in the 1970s, according to a lawsuit filed Monday against St. John's Abbey.

At a press conference, crusading attorney Jeff Anderson pointed the finger squarely at the abbey for giving Eckroth unlimited access to children as young as eight on weekend trips and for failing to tell families about the danger.

See also:
Kevin McDonough, former vicar general, refused to cooperate with police investigations

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who wished to stay anonymous, released a statement urging other victims to come forward about the way church officials have put their own interests above those of parishioners: "Maybe then, they will make changes at the top of this misguided leadership."

Brother Aelred Senna of St. John's Abbey released a statement Monday calling sexual crimes "morally reprehensible" and asserting that policy changes have been implemented in the last decade "to assure that the mistakes of our past are not repeated."

Senna notes that sorting out the truth of Eckroth's alleged crimes is difficult considering he suffers from advanced dementia and they took place 40 years ago. What's more, "While there have been credible claims of inappropriate behavior by Eckroth, there has also been conflicting testimony regarding allegations against him."

Anderson's lawsuit is intended to force files out of St. John's Abbey in the same way that another lawsuit has forced files out of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The abbey feeds Benedictine priests to the archdiocese, and so the two are linked in these allegations.

To begin making his case, Anderson also released the files of five other St. John's monks accused of sexually abusing children in the Twin Cities area, which he obtained through another lawsuit against the archdiocese. They include Robert Blumeyer, Cosmas Dahlheimer, Thomas Gillespie, Francis Hoefgen, and Brennan Maiers.

The files, though heavily redacted, total hundreds of pages and suggest that the archdiocese and the abbey quietly shuffled around bad priests to avoid scandal.

 

For instance, in one memo dated Oct. 23, 1987, and labeled "STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL," then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough notes that an allegation of abuse took place ten years in the past. "Because of this," McDonough writes, "both Fr. [Dan] Ward [of St. John's] and I are convinced that the statutory provisions requiring the reporting of certain incidents do not apply in this case." In other words, there's no legal mandate to call police.

In another memo, written Feb. 26, 1997, a communications director at the archdiocese named Timothy Anderson questioned whether it would be wise to inform parishioners about the allegations facing two priests in St. Paul and Stillwater, Dahlheimer and Gillespie.

Normally common sense would dictate that we withhold the information from the public for at least two good reasons. First, the lawsuit may be settled outside of court and not become a matter of public record. And second, an early release of the information gives the media a longer period of time to sensationalize the story.

Anderson was joined Monday by Lloyd Van Vleet, a 59-year-old Monticello man who alleges that Father Robert Blumeyer, since deceased, groomed him at St. Bartholomew in Wayzata in 1969.

He looked up to Blumeyer as a surrogate father. The priest started by showing the young boy pornographic pictures, which evolved into oral sex and ended by "exploring other parts of my body," Van Fleet says.

"He stole my childhood," Van Vleet concludes, noting that he stopped playing baseball and eventually fell into drug and alcohol abuse. "Everything I did changed."

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to jmarx@citypages.com


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