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Saint Bernard Abbey:
Responding to Sexual Misconduct in Ministerial Relationships

Maintaining Boundaries in Ministerial Relationships

Saint Bernard Abbey recognizes that sexual misconduct by a monk has devastating consequences for victims and their families, for the lay and religious communities, and for the perpetrators. We have become increasingly aware of the effects of this tragic behavior and have developed a steadfast commitment to helping those affected. This information is intended to provide basic information about (1) how Saint Bernard Abbey defines sexual misconduct within ministerial relationships, (2) what its procedures are for responding to complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior, and (3) to whom those subjected to sexual misconduct can turn for help.

Sexual Misconduct in a Ministerial Relationship

A ministerial relationship is one in which a person receives pastoral care from a religious, including:
•    Clergy
•    Members of religious communities
•    Spiritual directors and pastoral counselors.


Sexual misconduct is a general term that encompasses sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and sexual abuse. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexualized conduct or language between co-workers in the church setting. It may include, but is not limited to:
•    Unsolicited sexual advances and propositions
•    The use of sexually degrading words to describe an individual or his/her body
•    The telling of inappropriate or sexually-charged jokes
•    Retaliation against a co-worker who refuses sexual advances
•    Offers of preferential treatment such as promotions, positive performance evaluations, or favorably assigned duties or shifts in        exchange for sexual favors.


Sexual exploitation consists of sexual contact between a religious and a person receiving pastoral care from him.


Sexual abuse is sexual contact between a religious and a minor or vulnerable adult.


Sexual exploitation or sexual abuse can include physical contact or actions such as:

  • Sexual touch or other physical contact that makes the person being touched feel uncomfortable

•    Giving a sexually-charged gift (such as lingerie)
•    A prolonged hug when a brief hug is customary behavior
•    Kissing on the lips when kissing on the cheek would be appropriate
•    Showing sexually suggestive objects or pornography
•    Sexual intercourse, anal, or oral sex.


Sexual exploitation or sexual abuse can also include verbal behavior such as:
•    Innuendo or sexual talk
•    Suggestive comments
•    Descriptions of sexual experiences, fantasies, or conflicts
•    Sexual propositions.


To be clear, Saint Bernard Abbey's stance is this: Sexual misconduct -- whether harassment, exploitation, or abuse -- by monks, employees, or volunteers is contrary to Catholic morals, doctrine, and canon law. It is never acceptable in a pastoral relationship with a parishioner, employee, spiritual directee, counseling client, retreatant, student, or anyone who has sought the Church’s ministry.


It is not uncommon for those who seek the Church's ministry to feel attracted to a religious or to be flattered by his attention. A layperson’s attraction to a monk or enjoyment in being the object of his sexual interest does not excuse any form of sexual misconduct on his part, however. It is entirely the responsibility of the religious to maintain appropriate emotional and sexual boundaries with those with whom he works and /or serves.

How Saint Bernard Abbey Responds to Complaints of Sexual Misconduct

Saint Bernard Abbey responds to all allegations of sexual misconduct with great care and concern. To ensure that we handle each instance promptly, thoroughly, and compassionately, the Abbot of Saint Bernard Abbey has appointed a Delegate for Child Protection, who will listen to, understand, and offer help, including appropriate psychological counseling for those affected by the misconduct of a monk.

Saint Bernard Abbey, through the Delegate for Child Protection and independent investigators, will respond swiftly to evaluate and investigate any accusation of sexual misconduct by a monk. Any monk who has engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor will be subject to an individualized Safety Plan. This rigorous relapse prevention program provides appropriate psychological treatment specific for offenders and entails ongoing monitoring and supervision for the rest of their lives at Saint Bernard Abbey.


Saint Bernard Abbey, consistent with the directives of the Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, has also established the Abbey Review Board (ARB). This interdisciplinary board of lay professionals advises the Abbey on all matters related to sexual misconduct.

Preventing Sexual Misconduct

In addition to establishing procedures for responding to sexual misconduct, Saint Bernard Abbey has undertaken a series of measures to prevent future incidents of abuse. These include extensive mandatory psychological evaluation of candidates entering the monastery and the provision of continuing programs for monks about issues of sexuality and personal conduct.



It is our firm belief that religious must maintain appropriate boundaries with lay persons in order to preserve the integrity of the ministerial relationship. Moreover, we call upon those with knowledge of a monk's inappropriate behavior - whether past or present - to come forward with this information so that innocent victims may be spared further ham. In short, we ask everyone to join with us to protect the safety of children, women, and men, and with firm determination to promote healing where there is pain.

Click here to download a complete PDF copy of the Saint Bernard Abbey Child Protection Policy.

Where to Turn for Help

If you or someone you know believe that a monk of Saint Bernard Abbey has violated the boundaries outlined in this brochure, we urge you to report such behavior immediately to the Abbot and /or the Delegate for Child Protection. Your case will be handled with the strictest sensitivity and confidentiality.


This is the contact information for St. Bernard Abbey:

Office of the Abbot                   OR             Delegate for Child Protection
Saint Bernard Abbey                                    Saint Bernard Abbey
1600 St. Bernard Drive, SE                          1600 St. Bernard Drive, SE
Cullman, AL 35055                                       Cullman, AL 35055
(256) 734-8291                                              (256) 734-8291

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