Abbey, Backous Seek Protective Order
By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
August 24, 2016
|Former St. John's Prep headmaster Rev. Timothy Backous.|
Attorneys representing St. John’s Abbey and the Rev. Timothy Backous are asking a Stearns County judge to block the release of hundreds of pages of Abbey documents about Backous.
The Abbey is seeking the protective order after Jeff Anderson, the attorney representing two men who claim Backous abused them years ago, threatened to release the documents if the Abbey didn’t meet several of his conditions.
Anderson asked that the Abbey add Backous to its list of credibly accused, remove him from ministry and have Abbot John Klassen issue a public apology and retract statements about Backous being innocent of the allegations. He also asked the Abbey to release the Backous file or he would.
If the Abbey agreed to those conditions, they would be tantamount to admissions by Backous, and the Abbey and Backous have vehemently denied the accusations, said Robert Stich, who represents Backous.
“If the Abbey was going to do that, it would make a trial on these matters moot,” Stich said.
He and Stacey Sever, who represents the Abbey, told Stearns County District Court Judge Vicki Landwehr at a hearing Wednesday that allowing Anderson to release the documents would taint any prospective jury pool by exposing them to information that is possibly inadmissible at trial and would irreparably harm the right Backous has to a fair trial.
Landwehr took the motion under advisement.
Backous has served as director of campus ministry at St. John’s University, director of athletics at St. John’s and headmaster of St. John’s Prep School. He has stepped down from ministry and will have no contact with children while the two lawsuits against him are pending, Stich said.
The lawsuits allege that Backous sexually abused two children, one in the early 1980s and another in 1990. One of the men suing was 12 or 13 at the time of alleged conduct and was a member of the Boys Choir and the other victim was 16 or 17 and was a Prep School student.
The parents of one of the alleged victims reported the allegations to St. John’s in 1991 and were told that Backous would not be allowed around children, Anderson said. Those allegations accused Backous of abusing the boy while on a choir trip to Europe.
Those parents learned in 2014 that Backous was publically performing Mass in the Twin Cities, and they wrote then-Archbishop John Nienstedt to tell him it went against the promises the Abbey made in 1991. They also provided that letter to media outlets.
Soon after, Klassen issued a statement clearing Backous of wrongdoing. A subsequent Abbey investigation determined the choir trip allegations were unsubstantiated.
Anderson has been critical of the thoroughness of the investigations that the Abbey relied on to clear Backous. He also is critical of a letter that Klassen sent to the Duluth Diocese in 2013 when Backous was about to be hired by Essentia Health Care as vice president of mission integration and Benedictine sponsorship.
Klassen described Backous as a man of good moral character and reputation and said that he could find “nothing in his background” that would in any way “limit or disqualify him from this assignment.”
Anderson said that letter ignored the accusations made in 1991 about the choir trip.
Stich, at the hearing Wednesday, repeatedly denied that Backous abused either of the men making the allegations. It’s understandable that Anderson believes his clients’ claims, Stich said.
“But I believe what my client tells me,” he said.
And the allegations against Backous have caused him to lose his job with Essentia, be placed on restriction and be removed from ministry while the lawsuits play out, Stich said.
“He has already suffered and has continued to suffer from the publicity from the media and the fact that he already has lost his livelihood,” Stich said.