Lawsuits Accuse Backous of Abuse
By David Unze
St. Clouid Times
April 28, 2016
|Former St. John's Prep headmaster Rev. Timothy Backous.|
Two lawsuits filed Thursday in Stearns County accuse former St. John's Prep headmaster Rev. Timothy Backous of sexually abusing two children, one in the early 1980s and another in 1990.
The lawsuits don't describe specifics of the abuse, other than to say one victim was 12 or 13 at the time and was a member of the Boys Choir and the other victim was 16 or 17 and was a Prep School student.
Backous has been accused previously of sexually abusing a boy during a 1990 European tour by the choir. St. John's Abbey in 1991 looked into the allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated. The parents of the boy who accused Backous of sexual misconduct renewed the allegations in June 2014, and the Abbey retained an independent, third-party investigator to review the claim.
The claims again were determined to be unsubstantiated.
The abbey issued a statement Thursday that said the allegations against Backous are "without merit and false" and that the abbey will "fully and aggressively defend against the false claims.
Jeff Anderson, who is suing the abbey and Backous, said the abbey's investigations have been far less than thorough. The abbey indicated that, in 1991, it had interviewed eight of the nine chaperones who were on the choir tour.
The one who wasn't interviewed in 1991 wrote a statement that was released Thursday that said she walked into a dark room to find Backous on a bed with a student who had fallen ill.
Patricia Chiapusio-Riedl said she wasn't contacted during the 1991 investigation and that she told an abbey investigator in 2015 what she had seen.
"She walked in on Backous in a dark room on a bed with a child," Anderson said at a press conference Thursday.
She asked the boy if he was OK, and Backous intervened to answer before the child could, she wrote. She left the room with a sense that something wasn't quite right.
Years later she read an allegation that a boy on that same trip had accused Backous of sexual abuse and that St. John's had thoroughly investigated the accusations in 1991 and in 2015 and had cleared Backous of wrongdoing.
"As a mother and grandmother, I am speaking about my experience now in an effort to protect other children," Chiapusio-Riedl wrote in a statement.
Anderson highlighted the cases of former Prior Tom Andert and Backous as cases in which the abbey and its lawyers chose to believe the monks rather than the victims and put men back into ministry who shouldn't be.
"We now can see that the community at St. John's and the abbot have chosen to turn back the clock and turn their backs on the safety of the children by reinstating and continuing two different offenders with four lawsuits pending against them now back into ministry," he said.
The abbey statement objected to "the calculated misrepresentation of its strong record of dealing forthrightly with sexual abuse claims."
Allegations are examined by independent investigators and submitted to an external review board for review, the abbey said.
"This process has been effective: monks who had offended have been held accountable, and there has been no credible incident of sexual abuse of a minor by a monk of St, Johnís in well over a quarter-century," the statement read.
When the abbey cleared Backous it released a statement from Abbot John Klassen in which he said that the alleged victim refused to cooperate with the investigation and would not provide a firsthand account of the allegation.
The other victim came forward within the last few weeks and hadn't heard that there were any previous allegations against Backous, Anderson said.
He was highly critical of Klassen, saying that he thought the abbey was making progress in addressing abuse allegations and helping victims. He had singled out Klassen as being different than previous abbots, whom Anderson called "the bad abbots."
"Today, I put him on there and it gives me great sorrow to do this," Anderson said.