20 Years Later: Sex Abuse Claims Resurface after Memorial Day Mass
By Leah Beno
June 12, 2014
Abbot John Klassen, of St. John's Abbey, described the sexual abuse allegations leveled against a former St. John's Prep School headmaster "unsubstantiated" as he defended the integrity of Rev. Timothy Backous -- and the victim's family says that's disturbing.
The St. Cloud Times reported that the accusations against Backous -- which claim he had inappropriate sexual contact with a former member of the St. John's Boys' Choir -- surfaced in a letter dated May 31. That letter, sent by St. Cloud residents Chris and Kathy McDermid, claims their son was repeatedly sexually assaulted while on a choir trip to Europe in 1990 when he was just 12.
"They need to get his name on the list of accused because he was accused and he did abuse our son," Kathy McDermid told Fox 9 News.
Although they tried to file a police report, the McDermids say the Stearns County Sheriff's Office told them the alleged abuse was out of their jurisdiction.
"[Our son has] told us a lot of things, but I'm not even sure we know the whole truth," Chris McDermid admitted. "It's such a shame issue."
So, they turned to the abbey. The family told Fox 9 News they first brought allegations against Backous to then-Abbott Jerome Theisen shortly after the trip was over and asked Theisen to ensure that Backous would not be allowed around children. The McDermids say they were promised Backous would be sent away for treatment, and they also received money from the abbey to pay for years of counseling for the boy.
In an e-mail sent to the St. Cloud Times, spokesman Brother Aelred Senna explained that the Abbey paid for the counseling because the claims "emerged from a sponsored trip and were brought against a monk of St. John's," and that the abbey "had a pastoral opportunity to assist with the costs of counseling for the minor."
Senna explained that the abbey offers to assist regardless of whether the allegations of abuse are substantiated, and Klassen insists these are not.
"The allegations were not substantiated. Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character," Klassen wrote in a statement.
Kathy McDermid admitted she found Klassen's response "disturbing." Her husband, Chris, responded, "It's like a 'he-said she-said."
The letter was sent to Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to the St. Cloud Times; however, it was also copied and sent to Klassen and St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler.
The McDermids apparently penned the letter after learning that Backous presided over mass at the Basilica of St. Mary over Memorial Day weekend. A friend passed along a church bulletin that showed "Father Timo," as he likes to be called, would be a featured speaker -- and much to their surprise -- is still a prominent part of St. John's."
"I just freaked out when I heard that because those boys are all the same age as the boys in the St. John's Boys' Choir," Kathy McDermid said.
With renewed anger and frustration, they asked Nienstedt to investigate the allegations of abuse and prevent Backous from being around children in the interim.
"Something has to happen to get this guy out of here again," Kathy McDermid said. "My trust, I felt, was completely shaken."
Less than one week after the allegations resurfaced, Backous took a step back from his job in Duluth, where he has worked since 2013. He remains in good standing with the church, but Catholic leaders say they are inquiring about how the allegations were handled. Meanwhile, the McDermids say their son is working with St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson; although, at this point, nothing has been filed.
Backous served as headmaster of St. John's Prep School from 2006 to 2013 and was also the athletic director at St. John's University.
STATEMENT FROM ABBOT JOHN KLASSEN
I am certain that the pain the McDermid family has expressed is sincere, and I am sympathetic to what they describe they have been through.
I have known Father Tim Backous for many years, worked side-by-side with him, and observed his many, many interactions with children and young people. I have also reviewed the reports from nearly 25 years ago when the allegations of inappropriate conduct against Father Backous were first presented. The allegations were not substantiated. Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character.
We have publicly acknowledged those members of our monastic community against whom there are credible allegations, and we have reached out to victims to accept responsibility. We will continue to do so. But we also hope that those who are innocent will not have to live under clouds of doubt because of the actions of others.
STATEMENT FROM ESSENTIA HEALTH
Following renewed accusations of misconduct alleged to have occurred over 20 years ago, Fr. Tim Backous offered to take leave from his current role as VP, Mission Integration and Benedictine Sponsorship for Essentia Health. Essentia Health has accepted and placed him on administrative leave pending the outcome of its internal investigation into the matter.
STATEMENT FROM BISHOP ANDREW COZZENS
Approximately a week ago, Archbishop John Nienstedt received a letter from a couple who claimed their son was abused by Rev. Timothy Backous, O.S.B., a priest of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. The parents claimed their son was abused while on a youth choir trip while they were members of a parish in Saint Cloud. The accusation indicates the alleged abuse occurred more than 20 years ago, and the parents stated they contacted police. The family wrote that it was contacting the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis because they had recently seen Rev. Backous, O.S.B. celebrating Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and were disappointed with the way St. John's Abbey handled their complaint. The O.S.B. is an order of priests separate from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and operates out of Saint John's Abbey in [sic] Saint Cloud, MN.
Immediately after receiving the letter, we checked our priest files and found a letter from Saint John's Abbey (which is part of the Order of Saint Benedict) had been sent to us indicating Rev. Backous was a priest in good standing before he was granted permission to minister in the archdiocese.
We seek to obtain more information surrounding this accusation and how it was addressed by the Order of Saint Benedict. We believe this is a prudent response and is consistent with our commitment to protect children and help in healing.
Any further questions about Rev. Backous should be referred to Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN.
We continue to pray for all involved