Catholic Diocese of Duluth mishandled abuse allegations, groups say

By Kyle Farris
Pioneer Press
June 17, 2014

DULUTH -- The Catholic Diocese of Duluth was criticized Monday by a group representing victims of clergy sexual abuse for the church's handling of rekindled allegations that a priest molested a boy in 1990.

Verne Wagner, northern Minnesota director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged the church to share any knowledge it has of the allegations against Rev. Timothy Backous, who was asked by the church last week to stop assisting at St. Michael's parish in Duluth while the alleged incident is investigated further. Backous also is on administrative leave from Essentia Health, where he ministers for Catholic hospitals in the Twin Ports.

"How can this happen in this day and age?" Wagner told reporters during a gathering outside the Duluth Diocese main office.

The investigation centers on allegations that Backous molested a 13-year-old boy during a choir trip to Europe, at which time Backous was working for St. John's Abbey in Collegeville.

The parents of the alleged victim decided to air the allegations for a second time last month after learning that Backous was still working in proximity to children.

Wagner called for more transparency and cooperation from the church on matters of child abuse, saying the allegations were not listed on Backous' personnel file and that there might be more victims who have yet to come forward.

"We don't need accused predators working with our children," Wagner said.

"A lot of times people ask me, 'Are you still angry with the priest that abused you?' I am not. What I'm angry about is the fact that church officials, who can be the ones to stop this, aren't stopping it," said Wagner, who said he was molested by a priest when he was 12.

Essentia Health said in a statement last week that Backous had offered to take leave from his role as vice president for mission integration and Benedictine sponsorship.

In a separate statement last week, Rev. James Bissonette, vicar general of the Diocese, said the church wasn't previously aware of the allegations against Backous.

"To our knowledge, Father Backous has carried out his duties here ... in an exemplary manner and consistent with his vows and responsibilities," Bissonette said. "Nonetheless, 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."

Kyle Eller, Diocese spokesperson, said the church has volunteered information during investigations into alleged child abuse in the past, and that the church "goes to great lengths to invite (victims) to come forward."


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