Lawsuit: NY man abused by priest who helped found Minn. institute to deal with abusive clergy

Associated Press/June 7, 2011

St. Paul, Minnesota - A New York man filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that he was sexually abused at a Bronx church in the 1960s by a priest who went on to become abbot of a Minnesota monastery and helped found an institute to deal with clergy sexual abuse.

The federal lawsuit was filed in Minnesota against the Order of St. Benedict and St. John's Abbey. It alleges that former Abbot Timothy Kelly abused the man, who was an altar boy at the time, at St. Anselm's Church in New York while Kelly was an associate pastor. The abuse occurred in 1966 and 1967, when the plaintiff was about 15 or 16, according to the lawsuit.

Kelly died in October. Attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has filed numerous lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy, said the alleged victim decided to come forward after reading Kelly's obituary.

Two former monks at St. John's Abbey joined Anderson at a news conference to announce the lawsuit. Patrick Wall and Richard Sipe said they worked with Kelly on abuse issues and claimed the monastery had fostered a "climate of sexual secrecy" that came from the top.

The abbey issued a statement saying it was "saddened and shocked" to learn of the allegations and has begun an investigation. The statement said the abbey "views sexual abuse or sexual exploitation by its members to be morally reprehensible."

Abbey spokesman Paul Richards said in an email that the institute Kelly co-founded "no longer exists." Institute materials are still posted on the St. John's University website but list no activities since 2002, when it was incorporated into the St. John's School of Theology-Seminary.

Kelly became a monk at St. John's in the central Minnesota town of Collegeville in 1955, and was ordained a priest in 1961. He held several teaching or pastoral positions there, across the country and abroad before returning in 1992 to St. John's, where he was elected abbot.

He co-founded the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute a year later, saying the church needed to face up to the sexual misdeeds of monks and priests.

"The institute was a cover-up," said Sipe, who was elected to chair the institute's board shortly after it was founded.

The former monk said St. John's asked him in 1992, in his capacity as a therapist specializing in mental health problems of priests, to come to Collegeville and consult about issues the abbey was having with sexual abuse. He said he soon became dismayed by the abbot's resistance.

"I became more and more and more depressed because I could see they were covering up and covering up and covering up, and there was nothing I could do about it," Sipe said. "People came to me, both monks and laypeople, complaining about sexual activity of the monks. I reported all of that to Abbot Timothy, and Abbot Timothy discounted every bit of it. And actually I was forced out of my consulting position by Abbot Timothy, who said that I was manipulating him."

Wall, now a canon lawyer, said he also worked closely with Kelly on the abuse crisis.

"In my personal experience I found him completely unresponsive to complaints of sexual abuse," Wall said. "Publicly, he would put on a good face. Privately, he did not care (about) the information we were giving him. He honestly didn't care. That's what hurts the most."

Sipe said the alleged victim contacted him last year and told him he had four to 12 friends Kelly also abused. Sipe said he got no response when he wrote to the current abbot at St. John's, John Klassen, late last year. They eventually went to Anderson, whose past lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by clergy include several priests and monks connected with St. John's.

Anderson expressed skepticism at the abbey's claim of shock. He said St. John's failed to name Kelly on a list of alleged abusers it released earlier this year under the terms of a settlement with other Anderson clients, even though Sipe had written to Klassen about Kelly.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges the abbey had a duty to protect the plaintiff against Kelly. The suit claims the statute of limitations has not expired because St. John's systematically covered up abuse and the plaintiff did not discover the "fraudulent concealment" until recently. It seeks unspecified damages in excess of $75,000.

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