Lawsuits Accuse Reinstated St. John's Priest of Sexual Abuse
By Jean Hopfensperger
April 28, 2016
A well-known St. John’s Abbey monk, the Rev. Timothy Backous, is accused of sexually abusing two boys decades ago in lawsuits filed Thursday in St. Paul.
It was the second time in recent weeks that a St. John’s monk was sued after being suspended from ministry and then cleared by the abbey. The Rev. Thomas Andert, former abbey prior, also was sued by two men after being cleared by the abbey last November.
Both monks were former headmasters at St. John’s Preparatory School.
“St. John’s claimed to have done a thorough and complete investigation in both cases,” said victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson at a news conference Thursday. Instead, he said, it was “an investigation designed by them to protect the accused offender.”
One of the suits announced Thursday stemmed from incidents during a 1990 St. John’s boys choir trip to Europe. The other suit was filed by a man who alleges that he was abused by Backous as a young teen at the prep school in early 1980s.
The abbey suspended Backous from ministry last year while investigating the choir trip, then reinstated him last November after finding the allegations unsubstantiated.
In a written statement Thursday, St. John’s said the abuse allegations are “without merit and false.” It also defended its investigations.
“The investigator conducted a complete review of the contemporary records and documents and interviewed witnesses,” said the statement.
None of the witnesses recalled any inappropriate behavior, and the alleged victim “refused to cooperate,” it said.
Anderson presented a letter from a chaperone on the 1990 choir trip, who said she spoke briefly to the abbey investigator. Patricia Chiapusio-Riedl wrote that when she went to check on a sick choir boy, she found the boy’s room dark, and Backous lying in his bed with his arm around the boy.
She said she asked the boy how he was feeling, and “Fr. Backous told me the child was okay and that he would take care of him.”
A second plaintiff came forward in recent months, said Anderson, claiming that Backous had abused him, including giving him a naked massage.
The lawsuits name Backous, the abbey and the Order of St. Benedict as defendants.