-- Updated with a statement from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis --
In March, two top Catholic Church officials in Minnesota sat down with the editorial board of the St. Cloud Times to discuss the ongoing clergy sex abuse scandal. Bishop Donald Kettler of the St. Cloud Diocese and Abbot John Klassen of St. John's Abbey both agreed -- there were no priests left in ministry with creditable accusations against them.
Chris and Kathy McDermid, both retired school teachers who live in St. Cloud, were incredulous when they heard the news and incensed when they later found out that Father Timothy Backous had presided over a Memorial Day weekend Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary.
In a letter dated May 31, the McDermids allege that Backous sexually abused their son, in the summer of 1990, on a trip to Germany and Austria. Their son, they say, was traveling with the St. John's Boys' Choir and Backous had tagged along as a chaperone.
On return from the European tour our son was noticeably different. His demeaner (sic) had drastically changed. He was deeply disturbed, physically violent, and had angry outbursts which was not behavior he exhibited prior to the tour. We were horrified when he told us that he had been sexually abused by Father Backous.The McDermids also allege that they reported the abuse to the Stearns County Sheriff's Office to no avail. The couple contends that officials at St. John's Abbey then promised to send Backous away for treatment and bar him from any further interaction with children. Unbeknownst to the McDermits, though, the abbey kept Backous in a teaching position and put him in charge of the St. John's Preparatory School between 2006 and 2013.
In coming forward, the McDermids asked that their son's name be protected. They say he no longer lives in Minnesota and is 36, which would have made him 12 on that trip to Europe in 1990.
"Since the life-changing events that occurred decades ago, our family has done its best to pick up the pieces and be supportive to our son," the couple wrote. "It is difficult as parents, knowing what he's going through and watching him suffer."
A message left with Backous was not returned Tuesday. When reached for comment, Klassen released a statement in which he expresses sympathy for the family but defends his underling. The abbot says he's worked alongside Backous for years and seen his "many, many interactions with children and young people," and continues:
I have also reviewed the reports from nearly 25 years ago when the allegations of inappropriate conduct against Father Backous were first presented. The allegations were not substantiated. Father Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. I have absolute confidence in his integrity and character.Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which also received a copy of the letter, says he's looking into it. "Father Backous is a priest in good standing and that is why he's saying Mass at the Basilica," Accurso says, adding, "These charges are new to us."
In a separate statement, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens states,
We seek to obtain more information surrounding this accusation and how it was addressed by the Order of Saint Benedict. We believe this is a prudent response and is consistent with our commitment to protect children and help in healing.The McDermids are asking that church officials remove Backous, once and for all, from ministry. "I can't even describe it," Kathy tells us in a phone interview. "We were angry and just really sad to think that they would go against their word."
Chris' voice pops through a second receiver in the McDermit's home: "We just hope that Father Timothy Backous would have no further access to children. It's gotta stop."
Click through to read the archdiocese's statement in full.
STATEMENT OF BISHOP ANDREW COZZENS REGARDING FATHER TIMOTHY BACKOUS, O.S.B. June 11, 2014 Approximately a week ago, Archbishop John Nienstedt received a letter from a couple who claimed their son was abused by Rev. Timothy Backous, O.S.B., a priest of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. The parents claimed their son was abused while on a youth choir trip while they were members of a parish in Saint Cloud. The accusation indicates the alleged abuse occurred more than 20 years ago, and the parents stated they contacted the police. The family wrote that it was contacting the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis because they had recently seen Rev. Backous, O.S.B. celebrating Mass at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, and were disappointed with the way St. John's Abbey handled their complaint. The O.S.B. is an order of priests separate from the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and operates out of Saint John's Abbey in Saint Cloud, MN. Immediately after receiving the letter, we checked our priest files and found a letter from Saint John's Abbey (which is part of the Order of Saint Benedict) had been sent to us indicating Rev. Backous was a priest in good standing before he was granted permission to minister in the archdiocese. We seek to obtain more information surrounding this accusation and how it was addressed by the Order of Saint Benedict. We believe this is a prudent response and is consistent with our commitment to protect children and help in healing. Any further questions about Rev. Backous should be referred to Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. We continue to pray for all involved.