Letter to Catholic Church officials calls for Timothy Backous' removal from ministry [UPDATED]

Categories: Crime, Religion
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Artwork by Martin Ontiveros for our March 19 cover story

-- 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.

See also:
Francis Hoefgen: Portrait of an abusive priest

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.

Photo of Fr. Timothy Backous presiding over Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary, courtesy of behindthepinecurtain.com
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.

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I pray that Father Timo receives justice.  The local media have irresponsibly participated in defamation of a person of the highest moral fiber.  After a lifetime of service and devotion to the students of Saint John’s and people throughout Minnesota, Father Timo has been libelously attacked by Fox Twin Cities and City Pages. The irresponsible publishing of 25 year old, unsubstantiated, third party accounts have irreparably harmed an incredible man’s name.  I have known Timo for two decades and stand behind him and his character. This article is absolutely shameful.

Danielle Copeland Bethke
Danielle Copeland Bethke

I think I read somewhere that the Stearns County sheriff's office didn't handle it because it was "out of their jurisdiction", whatever that means. Was it because the abuse happened in Europe? You know how many of these stories I've read in which various priests are sent "for treatment"? It's a Catholic-run treatment facility, for cripes sake! I'm sorry, but a few weeks "away" and few Hail Mary's does not cure a pedophile. This Klassen guy is an idiot. Of course he thinks Father Backous is a swell guy. Pedophiles and child molesters are wolf in sheep's clothing.

Aaron Moore
Aaron Moore

"Hope is not a strategy"--aren't people like him supposed to be arrested and investigated by police and not just the church authorities? If the church representatives were notified and didn't call the police, they are just as liable and should have potential jail time.

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