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St. John's Abbey Leader Steps Down After Sex Abuse Allegation

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- From the outside, St. John's Abbey Church stands unchanged on the campus of St. John's University in Collegeville.

But within the walls, there is a shift in leadership.

Father Tom Andert -- the monastery's prior, or second in command -- stepped aside for now following accusations he molested a former student 30 years ago. Andert has been at the abbey for about 40 years.

Frank Meuers of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has fought for transparency in church sex abuse cases, having been a victim himself.

"I wish I could say it was a surprise, even some of the shock value has kind of worn off," Meuers said. "I still get angry, and I think we should."

Meuers believes this latest allegation is an example of the monastery refusing to change what he calls a culture of secrecy.

"Defrock him, quit paying his insurance, quit paying his retirement," Meuers said. "Do something that makes it look like you're doing something."

This is not the first time a monk has been the focus of a sexual abuse investigation. The abbey has a list of 18 monks with credible claims of child molestation over the last 40 years.

Andert is not on it. The abbey says it is investigating this latest allegation.

"This stuff exists, they simply ignore it because they can get away with it," Meuers said.

Any potential punishment will become the monastery's responsibility.

No criminal charges can be filed since the alleged abuse happened three decades ago, beyond the statute of limitations.

"Even if they're not criminally liable, aren't they operating under the auspices of a religion? Of a church?" he said. "Wouldn't you say they have a moral obligation? Don't you think it's moral law?"

Abbey spokesman Br. Aelred Senna said in a statement that the letter offered few details into the alleged abuse. He included information on the steps the monastery has taken during the investigation:

"We referred the letter writer to a Victim's Advocate and offered support for counseling. We asked Father Andert to step back from public ministry and from his work until an investigation is completed.

Fr. Bradley Jenniges, OSB, has been made the interim Prior at Saint John's Abbey. These steps are not required by our policy, but left to prudential judgment, which the Abbot has chosen to exercise.

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."

The abbey says someone questioned correspondence between Father Andert and a young man whom he was counseling about 25 years ago. That person never made a claim during Andert's tenure.

The abbey said they have no other incidents or allegations filed against him.

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