In memoir, St. John's Abbey priest admits abusing high school student

Fr. Allen Tarlton's deposition
Abuse victim Troy Bramlage, right, closes his eyes as attorney Jeff Anderson plays a recording of Fr. Allen Tarlton's deposition in which he admitted abusing children, April 28, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Documents released Tuesday show that the Rev. Allen Tarlton, a St. John's Abbey monk, has admitted in writing to sexually abusing at least one high school student at St. John's Preparatory School.

In a 14-page undated memoir released by the abbey as part of a lawsuit, Tarlton, 87, described how he invited a high school senior to his room and sexually touched him.

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"I used some excuse that I was studying nude art and wanted to study his body," Tarlton wrote. "He came to my room on several occasions and lay nude on my bed, while I pretended to be studying some art books that were lying open on my desk."

Tarlton gave the boy wine during one of the visits and the boy threw up, he wrote. He touched the boy inappropriately during about three separate visits, according to the document.

"I was not involved with any other high school student until many years later," he wrote.

Tarlton also described sexual contact with at least 10 adult students at St. John's University. In one case, he admitted to giving a college student a sleeping pill and sexually touching him while he slept.

"Three times I was reported to my superiors; once to the subprior, who asked me if I was guilty and I said yes," Tarlton wrote, of the contact with college students. "He thanked me for admitting it and gave me a little talk."

After two college students reported him to the head of St. John's Abbey, Tarlton was removed from his role as a dormitory prefect, but continued teaching, he wrote.

Attorney Jeff Anderson released the memoir and other documents Tuesday at a news conference announcing a settlement of a lawsuit between St. John's Abbey and Troy Bramlage, a man who said he was sexually abused by Tarlton as a student at St. John's Preparatory School in about 1977.

Bramlage, who initially filed his lawsuit as "Doe 2," said he was glad he decided to come forward publicly, and he encouraged other abuse survivors to get help and tell people what happened.

"This is a good time and a scary time for me," he said at the news conference.

Troy Bramlage
Troy Bramlage and attorney Jeff Anderson announce the settlement of a civil lawsuit against St. John's Abbey and Fr. Allen Tarlton Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Abuse survivors need to know that "the guilt and the shame that we feel does not belong to us," he said, adding that he wants everyone to know that abuse harms entire families, not just the people who were abused.

During the news conference, Anderson played an excerpt from a videotaped deposition of Tarlton from 2013. In it, Tarlton said he sexually touched students but doesn't recall how many times. He also said he never raped a student.

Bramlage hadn't seen the video before. As it played, he began to cry. His hands shook. A lawyer later brought him a chair when it appeared as though he was about to faint.

Bramlage said he hopes the release of the files will help other abuse survivors learn more about the men who harmed them. "There are a lot of people who are going to be able to get healthy because of it," he said.

St. John's Abbey declined to describe the agreement reached with Bramlage. "Out of respect for the privacy of the parties involved and the agreement we have made, we have no further comment on this settlement," it said in a statement Monday.

At the news conference Tuesday, Anderson said the agreement includes a financial settlement for an undisclosed amount and requires St. John's Abbey to provide his law firm with the abbey's files on 19 current and former monks accused of sexually abusing children.

The abbey also agreed to apologize to Bramlage, Anderson said, and Tarlton agreed to say that he believes a jury would find him guilty of abusing Bramlage even though he does not remember him.

Tarlton could not be reached for comment, and his attorney did not respond to calls and an email requesting comment.

When pressed for details, Anderson acknowledged that the settlement hasn't been put in writing yet. He said the parties agreed verbally to the terms and told a Stearns County judge that a settlement had been reached. He said the settlement terms will be released to the public once they are put in writing, other than the amount of the financial portion, which will remain private.

Abbey spokesman Brother Aelred Senna said in an email Tuesday, "It is true that there is not yet an executed document of the settlement agreement. I cannot comment on any speculations Mr. Anderson may have made about specific terms of the settlement."

The settlement does not affect the other cases pending against St. John's Abbey, said attorney Mike Finnegan, who works with Anderson. Finnegan estimates the firm has about a dozen such cases, including lawsuits and cases that have not been filed in court.

Allegations against Tarlton were first disclosed publicly more than 20 years ago, and several men have come forward over the years to allege abuse by the Benedictine monk.

St. John's Abbey kept Tarlton in various jobs until 2010, according to an assignment history provided by the abbey. Tarlton now lives at the abbey under a "safety plan," according to Senna, the abbey spokesman.

Tarlton was included on two public lists from St. John's Abbey of monks accused of abuse. The lists, released in 2011 and 2013, name more than a dozen other current and former monks as possible child abusers.

The abbey is part of a sprawling 2,700-acre property in Collegeville, Minn., that includes St. John's University and St. John's Preparatory School.

Tarlton taught English at St. John's Preparatory School from 1953 to 1957 and taught at St. John's University from 1957 to 1962, according to the abbey's document.

He then went to the Bahamas and taught English at St. Augustine's College for two years. He returned to the United States and served at St. Mark's Church in Cincinnati, Ohio as a pastoral associate from 1965 to 1969, the document said.

In 1973, Tarlton returned to St. John's Preparatory School and worked as an English teacher and drama director until 1991, it said. He left his job around the time a man came forward publicly to accuse him of abuse.

Although he lost his teaching job, Tarlton continued to hold positions at St. John's Abbey until 2010.

In 1994, he became the assistant director of the Benedictine Oblates for St. John's Abbey. In 1996, he became the director, a post he held until 2002. Tarlton also served as the abbey's assistant guest master from 1994 to 2002.

From July 1, 2002 to June 1, 2010, he served in a "supportive role" to the Oblates program, according to St. John's Abbey.

'He seemed especially vulnerable'

Tarlton's memoir provides a startling account of his sexual history. It details a long history of sexual contact with high school and college students.

Some of the conduct began when Tarlton was a high school student at St. John's. He recounted how one night in the dormitory, he touched a fellow high school student inappropriately while he slept.

He also described how, as an adult, he borrowed pornographic videos from a fellow monk "who had quite a collection." The unnamed monk would invite Tarlton and others to dinner, "followed by a 'film festival,'" Tarlton wrote.

Later, as a teacher at St. John's University, Tarlton had sexual contact with about 10 college students from about 1955 to 1964, he wrote. "The acting out usually involved going into a student's room while he was sleeping and fondling his genitals," he explained. "However, on one occasion I gave a sleeping pill to a student and then masturbated him while he slept."

Tarlton also described sexually touching a freshman college student while helping the student with a paper in his room. "I was attracted to him and he seemed especially vulnerable," he wrote.

The Abbey Church, St. John's University
The Abbey Church at St. John's University.
Jeff Horwich | MPR News file

The student "acted surprised, but he never resisted," Tarlton wrote. "When I finished, he walked out of the room without saying anything."

Tarlton recounted how he went to the student's room several times after that and touched him inappropriately. "He never indicated that he liked it, but neither did he ever resist," he wrote.

The student didn't return to St. John's University the following year, according to the document.

Tarlton also described an incident involving a sophomore at St. John's University. He "got into bed" with the student and "rubbed his bare chest, but nothing more," Tarlton said.

In about 1965, he said, two college students "reported to the abbot that I had threatened to give them failing grades if they didn't have sex with me. This wasn't true, and the abbot said he believed me. However, he said he was under pressure to remove me from the faculty, and he asked me to go to the Bahama Islands and teach in our high school in Nassau."

Eventually, Tarlton ended up serving as a pastor at a church in Cincinnati, Ohio, he wrote. While at the parish, he was "involved in a kind of orgy" with a 17-year-old boy and another priest, according to his account.

He also drank heavily and went to treatment for alcoholism several times over the years.

Tarlton eventually returned to St. John's Abbey and his sexual contact with students continued, he explained.

"In 1981 I was sexually involved with an eighteen-year-old senior in one of my classes," Tarlton wrote. "Ten years later he brought a civil suit against me, but the charge was dismissed because the statute of limitation had expired."

Tarlton wrote that an employee brought a civil suit against him "for sexual improprieties" in 1988 and was awarded $100,000 out of court.

His memoir concludes, "Well these are a few thoughts about Allen T. It was damn hard writing these lines, and I sure as hell don't relish the thought of going through all of this in front of a group of people. But I think they'll understand. Don't you?"

Past agreements

In 2002, St. John's Abbey reached a widely-publicized agreement with about a dozen people who alleged abuse by several monks.

At the time, Anderson hailed the agreement as a national model and praised Abbot John Klassen at a joint news conference.

"We put together a model we hope will be embraced by every church, every diocese and every religious order across the country," Anderson said at the time, according to a St. Paul Pioneer Press report. "The model provides for prevention, healing and reconciliation."

As part of the 2002 agreement, the abbey agreed to keep abusive monks away from children and pay for therapy for some victims. It also said a review board would investigate abuse complaints. The board included abuse victims and people with law enforcement and mental health experience.

Anderson later said the abbey violated the terms of the agreement, a charge the abbey has denied.

The settlement agreement does not require any changes in how the abbey supervises monks, according to Finnegan, one of the attorneys representing abuse victims.

Anderson said he would prefer that abusers not live on campus, but he thinks it's possible that keeping them together under tight supervision could be the best option for those who cannot be criminally prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.

The lists

St. John's Abbey has released limited information about monks accused of abusing children.

In 2011, St. John's Abbey released the names of 18 current or former monks who "have had credible allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation, or misconduct brought against them while they were working in one of the apostolates of St. John's Abbey, or before they were a member of the abbey."

Two years later, St. John's Abbey released another list of 18 current and former monks who "likely have offended against minors."

The two lists aren't the same.

Senna, the abbey spokesperson, said in an email that the 2011 list "included persons credibly accused of improper sexual behavior involving another adult."

The 2013 list was limited to allegations involving children, he said.

The men on the 2011 list are: Tarlton, Andre Bennett, Isaac Connolly, Richard Eckroth, Thomas Gillespie, John Kelly, Brennan Maiers, Dunstan Moorse, Francisco Schulte, Bruce Wollmering, Michael Bix, Cosmas Dahlheimer, Fran Hoefgen, Steven Lilly, Finian McDonald, Jim Phillips, James Kelly and Abbot John Eidenschink.

Three of those men — Connolly, Lilly and Eidenschink — have no "known credible allegations" of child sex abuse, Senna said.

The 2013 list, which is limited to allegations involving children, did not include those three men. It also included four new names: Robert Blumeyer, Othmar Hohmann, Dominic Keller and Pirmin Wendt.

Senna said the four men were added to the list in 2013 "because the Abbey received additional information which indicated that these four monks should also be included."

Senna did not say what the men allegedly did.

As part of the settlement agreement, the abbey will release the files of all monks on the 2013 list — as well as the file of the Rev. Angelo Zankl, according to Finnegan, one of the attorneys representing abuse victims.

Zankl was included on a list of "credibly accused" clerics released by the Diocese of Duluth in 2013. However, the abbey has not included Zankl on its list of monks who have likely abused children.

Senna, the abbey spokesperson, said Zankl wasn't added to the abbey's list because the abbey "is not in possession of any information indicating that Zankl offended against minors, nor are we aware of any accusation against Zankl being presented to St. John's Abbey."

Accused monks living at St. John's Abbey

Tarlton and eight other monks who "likely" abused children live on the property, according to an abbey spokesman. St. John's Abbey requires the men to follow "supervised safety plans" that prohibit spending time alone with children on campus, the abbey said in a 2013 statement.

St. John's is also home to dozens of students who attend St. John's Prep as boarders starting in ninth grade. (The school reported a total enrollment of 294 students in 2014-2015, with 29 percent living on campus.)

Some victims have criticized the abbey for allowing the accused monks to remain at the abbey.

The abbey has said the men are not allowed to spend time alone with children on the property.

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