Duluth Diocese Suspends Priest, Abuse Support Organization Demands Answers
By Alan Hoglund
June 17, 2014
A member of an organization that supports victims of abuse by priests is demanding answers from the Diocese of Duluth. This comes after a priest at St. Michael's Catholic Church was suspended when the diocese learned about allegations of abuse from nearly 25 years ago.
"Whether or not this man is guilty, that's up for a court to decide," Verne Wagner, the Northern Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Wagner is talking about Father Timothy Backous. Backous is accused of abusing a child at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota in 1990. According to the Diocese of Duluth, Backous relocated to Duluth to work at Essentia Health. He has also been serving a roll at St. Michael's on the weekends.
For now Backous' work at both locations is on hold.
Essetia Health Media Relations Specialist Maureen Talarico told us Backous offered to take leave from his current role following renewed accusations of misconduct. "Essentia Health has accepted and placed him on administrative leave pending the outcome of its internal investigation into the matter."
A June 11th statement from Father James Bissonette, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Duluth, said "we've just become aware of the allegations...we take such matters extremely seriously and have asked Father Backous to suspend his weekend work at the parish until a fuller examination of the facts can be completed."
While the diocese said they learned about the allegations last week, Wagner alleges that it's not true. He told Eyewitness News that the diocese needs to be held accountable for withholding information.
Wagner has a lot of questions: Did the diocese review his [Backous] personnel file? Did Backous get treatment? Has anyone else accused Backous of abuse?
Eyewitness News went to the diocese to get some answers.
Communications Director Kyle Eller said prior to Backous coming to St. Michael's, the diocese asked for and received a letter from Abbot John Klassen, his religious superior, in the spring of 2013. According to Eller, it said that Backous is a priest in good standing that nothing in his background would render him unsuitable to work with children.
Eller said St. John's investigated the 1990 allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated. He said they know of no other accusations against Backous, and that "to our knowledge Father Backous carried out his duties at St. Michael's responsibly."
However, Wagner wants the priest's employers to do more checking. "SNAP urges the Duluth Diocese and Essentia Hospital to reach out to patients and children who may have had contact with Father Backous to assure that others may have not been abused by this man."
The diocese said it takes sexual abuse seriously too, and is urging any victims to come forward to law enforcement and the church.