Abbey leader says priest exonerated of molesting choirboy

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DULUTH, Minn. — A priest who was accused of molesting a choirboy during a European tour in 1990 has been exonerated in a third-party investigation, according to the abbot of his monastery.

But an advocate for victims of sexual abuse by priests isn’t satisfied.

“Their third-party investigator was paid to find exactly what they were looking for,” said Verne Wagner, the northern Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We’ve seen this in many instances, and it is not credible.”

The allegations against the Rev. Timothy Backous, who was placed on leave from positions with Essentia Health and St. Michael’s parish in Duluth in June 2014 after they resurfaced, “were not supported by evidence,” said Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., in a statement released on Thursday.

Klassen cited the findings of the St. John’s Abbey External Review Board, which he said repeated a report from an independent third-party investigator who spent a year investigating the allegations.

The allegations stem from a European tour by the St. John’s Boys’ Choir, which then was a part of St. John’s Abbey, during the summer of 1990. Backous was a chaperone on that trip, according to Chris and Kathy McDermid of St. Cloud, whose son turned 13 while on that tour.

In a May 31, 2014, letter to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the McDermids said that their son’s behavior was markedly different when he returned from that trip. After a year went by, he told them he had been sexually abused by Backous, Kathy McDermid said in an interview in June 2014.

The McDermids took their allegation to the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office and were told it was out of their jurisdiction, she said. The abbey paid for their son’s therapy and promised that Backous wouldn’t have any more involvement with the choir or any more access to students, she said. They were promised he would be sent far away for therapy, she added.

They sent their letter to the archdiocese after learning from a friend that Backous had preached at the Basilica of St. Mary’s in Minneapolis during the 2014 Memorial Day weekend and further learning that Backous had served as headmaster of St. John’s Prep School in recent years, Kathy McDermid said.

At the time, Klassen vigorously defended Backous.

“The allegations were not substantiated,” he wrote in a statement in 2014. “Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character.”

The third-party investigation confirmed his view, according to the statement that Klassen released on Thursday. Although the alleged victim refused to cooperate with the investigator, the investigator did obtain testimony from eight of the nine tour chaperones and seven former choirboys who were on the tour.

“None had any recollections of inappropriate behavior involving Father Backous and the person making the allegation,” Klassen wrote.

A separate allegation that surfaced for the first time last November also was thoroughly explored, he wrote. “Again, no witnesses corroborated the allegation and key witnesses contradicted substantive claims in the allegation.”

Wagner was unimpressed, saying he would believe the monastery’s report only if the McDermids and their son recanted their claims.

The McDermids could not be reached on Thursday. A spokesman for the abbey said Backous is living at St. John’s, and his future would be determined in consultation with the abbot. Backous didn’t respond to a request for an interview via email.

Kyle Eller, a spokesman for the Diocese of Duluth, said Backous is under the authority of the abbey, and that if he wanted to return to the Diocese of Duluth he would have to ask Bishop Paul Sirba.

“That hasn’t happened,” Eller said.

Backous no longer is employed at Essentia Health, according to Maureen Talarico, an Essentia spokeswoman.

Backous, a South Dakota native, entered the monastery in 1979 and was ordained in 1986, according to the St. John’s Abbey website. He earned his doctorate in moral theology in Rome. Along with the Rev. William Graham, pastor of St. Michael’s, he is author of the book “Common Good, Uncommon Questions: Topics in Moral Theology.”

Abbey leader says priest exonerated of molesting choirboy
John Lundy
Grand Forks Herald
November 6, 2015

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Topics: John Klassen, Tim Backous

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