Settlement in abuse case against St. John’s Abbey

Published 9:48 am Tuesday, April 28, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota man has settled a lawsuit with St. John’s Abbey that will force the release of personnel files for 19 monks accused of sexually abusing minors, attorneys said Monday.

The settlement announced by attorney Jeff Anderson’s law firm was to be detailed at a news conference Tuesday.

Anderson sued St. John’s in 2013 on behalf of Edward “Troy” Bramlage III, 52, who said he was abused by the Rev. Allen Tarlton when he was a 14-year-old freshman at its prep school in 1977. The lawsuit said St. John’s leadership repeatedly sent Tarlton for treatment but allowed him to continue working at the prep school.

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Anderson said Monday the settlement is “a big deal” and an “important step forward” because it requires not only the disclosure of Tarlton’s files but also those of an additional 18 St. John’s monks credibly accused of abuse. A timeline for releasing the other files has yet to be set, Anderson said.

“Until we reveal the history (of abuse), it’s going to repeat,” Anderson said.

The abbey has said Tarlton lives in a restricted setting and has no contact with students. In a statement Monday, the abbey said it reached the settlement in order “to achieve some measure of reconciliation” but had no other comment. Tarlton’s attorney, Robert Stich of Minneapolis, said Monday that Tarlton, now 87 and under 24-hour-a-day medical care at the abbey, has never admitted abusing Bramlage.

The lawsuit, which had been due to go to trial May 4, named St. John’s Abbey, St. John’s Prep, the Order of St. Benedict and Tarlton, a monk and priest in the Benedictine order, which founded the abbey, prep school and university.

St. John’s Abbey, part of the Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud, is one of the largest Benedictine monastic communities in the Western Hemisphere. The abbey, prep school and university share a common campus in Collegeville, about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis, and have been targets of numerous abuse lawsuits over the years.

Anderson used the same legal strategy in this lawsuit that he used against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, claiming the defendants created a “public nuisance” by failing to warn the public about abusive priests.

Anderson was able to use the other lawsuit to force the unprecedented disclosure of tens of thousands of church documents and the names of dozens of accused priests, as well as the public release of court-ordered depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt and other top church leaders, revealing how they handled allegations of clerical misconduct. Anderson reached a settlement in that case last October that was aimed at creating a safer environment in the church for children.

Both lawsuits took advantage of a 2013 state law that opened a three-year window setting aside the statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits, which opened a floodgate of new litigation. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in January in what has become a common move for dioceses around the country facing heavy financial pressure from sexual abuse claims.