Minnesota Religious Order Knew Teacher was Abusing Children, Lawsuit Claims

A new lawsuit is claiming that a Minnesota religious order knew a teacher was sexually abusing children. A former student has sued the St. John’s Abbey for fraud.

According to The Associated Press (AP), the student alleged that the religious order was aware that one of its members had been accused of sexual abuse over 50 years ago, in 1958, but continued to allow the man to continue teaching. The lawsuit was filed in Stearns County by the former St. John’s Prep student who claims Reverend Allen Tarlton sexually abused him in the 1980s. Tarlton was an English teacher at the time.

In fact, the lawsuit also alleges that no less than three of the school’s abbots were aware of the accusations against Tarlton, yet placed him in teaching positions, not only at St. John’s Prep, but at other locations nationwide, and in the Bahamas, said the St. Cloud Times. A message left by the AP with the abbey was not returned.

The AP explained that, in 2002, Tarlton was one of a score of priests with the abbey who were facing restrictions due to abuse allegations. Worse, said the AP, in depositions for previous lawsuits, Tarlton admitted to the earlier abuse. That same year, the abbey removed Tarlton from his Director of the Oblate Program position, a role that enables lay people to devote themselves to the Benedictine faith. No vows are needed and there are no requirements to live in a religious community, noted the AP.

The lawsuit also indicates that Tarlton was sent to psychiatric treatment and alcohol and sex offender treatment—several times—in the more than 20 years from 1960 through 1983, said the AP.

The attorney representing the former student, known as John Doe LP, said the way in which the abbey transferred Tarlton reveals an “adherence to the code of secrecy.” The lawsuit also claims that the abbey committed fraud by not advising students about Tarlton’s history, instead presenting the abbey, the prep school, and the university, as locations in which children would be safe from such abuse, said the AP.

Sadly, this is not the only breaking news on sexual abuse in recent days. Earlier this week, we wrote that three New Mexico men settled a lawsuit they filed against the Diocese of Gallup, the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque. The three claim that when they were children, a priest at the parish sexually abused. The men appear to be the first to file sexual abuse lawsuits in the Navajo Nation against the Catholic Church. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed at the request of the victims.

The allegations were made against Charles Cichanowicz, a Franciscan priest who worked on the Navajo Nation in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Cichanowicz worked at parishes in New Mexico and Arizona during that time.

The lawsuit also alleged that the Franciscans were made aware of the priest’s sexual abuse and he was caught in the act. Instead of being removed from his position and criminally prosecuted, the church transferred him to another parish. Cichanowicz left the church on his own accord years later, but well after he was alleged to have abused these accusers.

The men filing the lawsuit said they hope their actions will protect children in the future from sexual abuse and to make the Navajo Nation aware of potential abuse being committed. For years, the subject of child sexual abuse has been taboo and even the parents of those who are victims of abuse are hesitant to come forward with allegations for fear of retribution or backlash from those closest to the church.

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