Monastery prior steps aside pending investigation

The Abbey Church, St. John's University
St. John's Abbey Church
Jeff Horwich | MPR News 2013

Updated: 6 p.m. | Posted: 1:34 p.m.

The prior of the monastery at Saint John's Abbey has stepped aside because of an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a former student at Saint John's Preparatory School, according to a spokesperson for the abbey in Collegeville, Minn.

The Rev. Tom Andert will "step back from public ministry and from his work until an investigation is completed," the Rev. Aelred Senna, the abbey spokesperson, said in an email to MPR News. Andert declined to comment.

Senna said he did not know if the abbey had reported the allegation to law enforcement. "It is our policy to do that," he said.

In a subsequent email to MPR News, Senna said, "Because the reported incident is alleged to have occurred three decades ago and was reported by an adult person, it is our understanding that neither the Minnesota mandatory reporting statue nor Abbey policy requires the Abbey to make a report to law enforcement. In addition, the reporting person specifically requested that his report be kept confidential. The Abbey promptly provided the reporting person with the contact information for Stearns County Sheriff, and advised him that he has the right and opportunity to make a report (to the) Stearns County Sheriff."

Local law enforcement have no record of any report, according to Lt. Jon Lentz, of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, who searched records for the sheriff's office and local police.

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

The decision to remove Andert as the prior of the monastery came in response to a letter sent earlier this month from a former student at Saint John's Preparatory School, according to Senna.

"The letter alleged sexual misconduct by Father Tom Andert, but had very few details," Senna said. "In spite of the lack of detail in the allegation, we have implemented our policy ... and referred the letter writer to a Victim's Advocate and offered support for counseling."

The allegation "dates back to more than three decades ago," he said.

Abbot John Klassen appointed the Rev. Bradley Jenniges last week to serve as the interim prior of the monastery.

Senna declined to provide further details about the complaint. He said the abbey had referred the allegation to its review board for investigation.

"In fairness to all involved and because the complainant requested strict confidentiality, we will be releasing no further information until a determination of fact can be made," he said.

In a statement Thursday, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests called St. John's Preparatory School "a hotbed of abuse and cover ups" and urged anyone with information about Andert to contact law enforcement.

"We appeal particularly to those who used to work for or attend the school," SNAP director David Clohessy said. "We suspect dozens of these individuals have knowledge or suspicions that should be reported to secular authorities. We hope no one is naive enough to report them to church figures."