Tevlin: The Catholic Church's long, weird week

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2013 - 12:12 PM

St. John's Abbey bell tower and church in Collegeville, Minn.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Patrick Marker has run a website dedicated to exposing abusive priests and offering a platform for victims for more than 10 years, so he’s used to getting mail.

Some e-mails are like the one he received Monday, in which a victim told him of being sexually abused by a brother at St. John’s University in 1960, but never getting a response after he reported the incident to the abbey.

But Marker was shocked to get an e-mail last week filled with obscenities.

“I hope you die in a car accident,” the e-mail said. “You are more of a victimizer than any of them. … Die a hundred deaths you worthless crap stain of a human being.”

Even more surprising, Marker was able to determine the note came from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., where he had been sexually abused as a youth. He finally determined the person who sent it and wrote to the man, suggesting the e-mail was threatening.

Brother Peter Sullivan, a member of the abbey’s Peace and Justice committee, wrote back: “I’m sorry for what I said. And I’m sorry for what happened to you. I just got really mad when someone told me I was on the website so I checked it out and there I was.”

It was that kind of week for the Catholic Church in Minnesota, from the St. John’s incident, to the archbishop’s odd news conference, to his announcement that he would step down temporarily because of an allegation he inappropriately touched a child, a claim he vigorously denies.

Marker, who has been aggressively pursuing the issue since he acknowledged his own abuse in 1991, has posted the names of all monks and brothers at St. John since 1950 at his website, www.behindthepinecurtain.com, in case potential victims are looking for them. The full list of 773 monks does not exist anywhere else, and Marker wants to make sure of an Internet presence of the names. Sullivan’s profile page specifically says, “This monk has no known allegations of misconduct.”

Marker has reported the e-mail to the abbey and authorities, and Abbot John Klassen sent a note of apology to Marker.

On Monday, St. John’s Abbey confirmed the exchange and sent me a note that there “was no excuse” for Sullivan’s choice of words.

Aelred Senna, a spokesman for the abbey, also wrote that “Mr. Marker has cast a broad net, accusing the guilty and the innocent with equal vigor. … Those who are pursuing the facts surrounding cases of misconduct and those who are unfairly cast as guilty need to do a better job of assuring that the victims always remain foremost in our efforts to promote healing.”

Marker once sat on the abbey’s board of review for sex abuse allegations, but became frustrated when alleged victims were routinely discredited and names of potential abusers were covered up.

“I couldn’t be part of that process,” he said.

Marker’s frustration is palpable, and warranted.

Coming just days before Archbishop John Nienstedt’s absurd no-questions-please “news conference,” the hostile e-mail suggests a culture that exists apart and above any other, and a community still deeply in denial. Tuesday’s allegation just made the situation more bizarre.

“The archdiocese and abbey only act following abuse reports or lawsuits,” said Marker. “I have yet to see any action motivated by the church’s teaching of compassion. The archbishop is trying to do what the abbey is trying to do.”

In other words, deny, cover up, minimize losses.

So the archbishop went to one of the area’s wealthiest Catholic churches days before the giving season and claimed that “when the story started to break at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.”

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