Protecting God’s Children

from the desk of Fr. Mark, OFM

Letter from Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM
Provincial Minister for St. John the Baptist Province

October 9, 2020

Consistent with our commitment to transparency and accountability, the Provincial Leadership of St. John the Baptist Province last year announced plans to make public the names of friars with substantiated child sex abuse allegations against them.  The Province retained the services of Burnett Risk Control International, an independent firm expert in the examination of sexual abuse and misconduct claims.  A team of forensic psychologists and investigators began an independent, all-encompassing investigation last fall, dissecting the backgrounds of all St. John the Baptist Province members dating back to 1940, a full decade beyond the 1950 global benchmark used by the Catholic Church and other organizations.

An allegation was deemed “substantiated” based on the following criteria established by the forensic investigators: 1) the friar’s own admission, 2) a criminal or civil adjudication, or 3) an administrative/internal investigation and action.  After months of comprehensive scrutiny and analysis, the Burnett investigative team determined that 31 friars had a total of 55 substantiated child sex abuse allegations against them.  Today, we have posted a list on our website that identifies these 31 friars by name.

We have sent the list to the bishops of the 34 archdioceses and dioceses in 16 states where the friars were stationed: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, D.C. If necessary, updates will be made to the list, which provides the names of the friars, their date of ordination (if ordained to the priesthood), and their current status. Of the 31 friars named on the list, 22 are deceased.  Of the 9 who are living, 2 are permanently removed from all ministry and living under supervised safety plans, and 7 left the Order.

The behavior of these friars is not acceptable in our fraternity and is a betrayal of our Franciscan values.  We are hopeful that publishing the names of friars with substantiated allegations against them will bring some measure of healing, reconciliation, and resolution to abuse survivors.  We hope that shining a light on these offending friars will bring peace to survivors and their families and contribute to their healing. Publishing these names is an expression of sorrow, regret and apology for the harm done to these abuse survivors.  As part of the healing and reconciliation process, we pray for all those who were harmed.

Publishing this list is part of our broader commitment to transparency and accountability which is evidenced in the Province’s policies and procedures for safe environments and the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.  Our zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse and misconduct consists of several components that include prevention, education, monitoring, auditing, reporting, and responding.  They are based on the highest established standards in the private sector developed by Praesidium Inc., an independent, nationally recognized authority that scrutinizes and evaluates the sexual abuse protection and response policies of major private and public organizations. The Province’s compliance with and implementation of its protection policies are regularly reviewed and accredited by Praesidium. This independent oversight ensures transparency and accountability and, most importantly, the safety and protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

In addition to Praesidium Inc., the Province’s policies and procedures follow the national standards of religious organizations, including the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The Province takes the following actions as part of our zero-tolerance policies and procedures:

  • All allegations (no matter when the alleged abuse took place or whether a friar is active, retired, deceased, or left the Order) are addressed with utmost urgency and significance.
  • Upon receiving notification of a claim of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult, the Province reports the allegation to the jurisdictional law enforcement and prosecutorial authorities.
  • The accused friar is immediately removed from all ministries, whether or not criminal charges are brought against the individual. At no time during law enforcement investigations, or an investigation conducted for the Province by independent investigators, is the friar restored to ministry.
  • Dioceses, parishes, and ministries where the friar served are notified about the claim and individuals with information on the abuse claim, or any other allegation, are asked to contact the authorities and the Province.
  • Independent therapy and counseling care are made available to the abuse survivor.
  • The accused is provided with therapy and remains under close supervision.
  • If allegations are substantiated, the friar is permanently removed from all ministries and ministerial sites and is placed on a closely supervised safety plan.
  • All friars and those in formation undergo mandatory annual training and education programs on the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

If you have been subjected to sexual abuse or misconduct by a member of St. John the Baptist Province or if you have information about someone who has been abused by a friar, the Province advises that you first report it to your local law enforcement authorities. Then contact Angelica Jochim, MFT, the Victims Assistance Coordinator of the Pastoral Outreach Office, P.O. Box 1137, Sebastopol, CA  95473, or call toll free: 1-800-440-8013. Your call and the information you provide will be confidential to the extent civil law allows.  The Province is mandated under its zero-tolerance policies and procedures to report allegations and claims to local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.

In closing, I thank you for your abundant support of the people we serve through the ministries of St. John the Baptist Province. I ask you to please join me and all the friars in prayer that abuse survivors and their families will find peace and healing.  Thank you, and God bless you.

Fr. Mark Soehner, OFM

Father Mark Soehner, OFM
Provincial Minister
St. John the Baptist Province