Lawyers press St. John's Abbey to open all files on suspected clergy abuse

The Abbey Church, St. John's University
The St. John's Abbey Church.
Jeff Horwich/MPR News, File

Two men who say they were sexually abused by a monk at St. John's Abbey in the 1970s have filed suit against the abbey and Order of St. Benedict in Stearns County District Court.

The lawsuit filed Monday accuses the Rev. Richard Eckroth of sexually abusing boys at a cabin in northern Minnesota. Internal documents obtained by attorney Jeff Anderson from the archdiocese last year show that Eckroth took more than 350 children to the cabin without their parents, but Anderson said it's not clear how many of them may have been abused.

"He would bring kids he knew from the parishes, from the school, from the clerical landscape, to this cabin, where he would abuse them," Anderson said. The first victim, named as Plaintiff Doe 33, says he was abused starting at the age of 8 in 1970. Plaintiff Doe 34 alleges that he was abused from age 10 to 13.

Anderson's law firm released hundreds of internal documents (posted below) from the personnel files of five other monks accused of sexually abusing children. He called on St. John's Abbey to release the complete files on 18 clerics suspected of abuse.

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Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

Eckroth last year appeared on lists of "credibly accused" priests released by St. John's Abbey and the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Eckroth was ordained as a priest in 1952. He taught philosophy at St. John's University and Seminary. He was also employed as a dorm prefect. He currently lives at a retirement center at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, under a supervised safety plan imposed by the abbey.

A statement from St. John's Abbey said the abbey was made aware of the latest allegations against Eckroth late last week. Eckroth is suffering from advanced dementia, which makes it difficult to sort out the truth of allegations against him, St. John's Abbey spokesperson Br. Aelred Senna said.

"For many years, he has lived under close monitoring, both because of his disease and as a result of restrictions imposed on him," the abbey's statement said.

Anderson obtained those documents in a separate lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court by a man who says he was sexually abused as a child by the Rev. Thomas Adamson.

That case has forced the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona to turn over thousands of pages of internal documents on dozens of priests accused of sexually abusing children, including files kept on St. John's monks who served in the Twin Cities and Winona.

We hope to "force the disclosure of the files, and getting to the bottom of this squalid sort of history so it's less likely to repeat itself," Anderson said.

Senna said the abbey has cooperated in the past with all court orders to produce documents.

Anderson's law firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, has filed 32 lawsuits on behalf of 34 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse since last summer. The lawsuits are allowed under a new state law that gives victims of child sexual abuse more time to sue.