Family accuses Ex-St. John's Prep headmaster of abuse

By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
June 11, 2014

COLLEGEVILLE St. John's Abbey Abbot John Klassen on Tuesday called allegations of inappropriate sexual contact by a former St. John's Prep School headmaster against a former member of the St. John's Boys' Choir unsubstantiated and defended his integrity and character.

The allegations of inappropriate contact by the Rev. Timothy Backous surfaced in a letter sent May 31 by Chris and Kathy McDermid, who live in St. Cloud and whose son was in the choir when it made a trip to Europe in 1990, to Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The letter was copied to Klassen and St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler.

The McDermids wrote the letter after learning that Backous had presided over Mass on Memorial Day weekend at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. They asked Nienstadt to investigate the allegations and not allow Backous to be around children.

The McDermids contend that they first brought the allegations against Backous to then-Abbot Jerome Theisen shortly after the choir returned from Europe.

They asked Theisen to prevent Backous from having any role that put him around children, and they received payment from the abbey for counseling for their son. Abbey spokesman Brother Aelred Senna said Tuesday in an email to the Times that the abbey paid for the counseling because the allegations "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."

The abbey offers to assist in such situations, regardless of whether the allegation of abuse is substantiated, Senna said in the email.

Klassen strongly defended Backous, who was headmaster at the prep school from 2006-13 and athletic director at St. John's University.

Klassen has worked alongside Backous for many years and observed his interactions with children and young people, Klassen wrote in his statement. He also reviewed reports from when the allegations were first made, he wrote.

"The allegations were not substantiated. Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character," Klassen wrote.

Klassen acknowledged that the abbey has reached out to victims when there are credible allegations against members of the abbey.

"We will continue to do so," he wrote. "But we also hope that those who are innocent will not have to live under clouds of doubt because of the actions of others."

The McDermids said Tuesday evening that they stand by what they said happened to their son on the Europe trip. They have retained clergy sex abuse attorney Jeff Anderson and are pondering a lawsuit.

Kathy McDermid described Klassen's response as "disturbing."

Whether the abuse happened "is for somebody else to figure out," Chris McDermid said. "It's like a 'he-said, she-said,'" he said.

Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Tuesday that Backous is a priest in good standing.



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