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Clergy abuse allegation surfaces against ex-St. John's Prep headmaster

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A former member of a central Minnesota boys' choir says a priest at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville abused him while on a trip to Europe more than two decades ago. 

The alleged victim and his family say they decided to go public with their allegations against the Rev. Timothy Backous after learning Backous was still in public ministry and had recently been working with minors. 

 

Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

The abbey says it stands by Backous. However, Essentia Health in Duluth, where the priest is now a vice president, says Backous is on voluntary leave pending an internal investigation. Late this afternoon, the Twin Cities Archdiocese said it is looking into the matter as well. 

The man, now 37, says he endured unwanted sexual touching from Backous throughout a bus ride during the May 1990 European trip, while Backus was a chaperone. Backous could not be reached for comment.

The alleged victim said he's not ready to speak publicly. His father, Chris McDermid of St. Cloud, said when his son returned from Europe 24 years ago, he had changed and that it was more that typical teenage angst. "He started getting angry. He broke things. It was disturbing, but we had no idea what happened."

Mother Kathy McDermid said after nearly a year of angry outbursts her son finally revealed what happened but that local law enforcement officials told her then they couldn't do anything because the alleged crime happened overseas. 

The McDermids said they sent their son to a therapist and then met with the head of St. John's at the time, Abbot Jerome Theisen, who's now deceased.

"We said he's getting therapy. And they said, 'Yeah, we will pay for that. We will pay for the therapy, any therapy he needs,'" she said. "In fact, they said 'any therapy he ever needs.'" 

Theisen promised that Backous would no longer be allowed to work with the boys' choir or students at St. John's, the McDermids said, adding they put the matter behind them. 

They said they decided to come forward now after learning Backous had celebrated Mass in Minneapolis and had been headmaster of St. John's Preparatory School from 2006 until last year.  

The McDermids outlined their concerns in a May 31 letter to Twin Cities Archbishop John Neinstedt and current St. John's Abbot John Klassen. 

Klassen said in a statement that the allegations of inappropriate conduct were not substantiated and Backous has no restrictions placed upon him. 

At the same time, a spokesman for Klassen confirms the abbey did pay for the alleged victim's therapy.

"In keeping with who we are, Saint John's offers to assist with counseling payments regardless of whether an allegation of abuse is substantiated,"  Brother Aelred Senna said in a statement.



St. John's Abbey statement



McDermid family's letter re: Rev. Timothy Backous



Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: Statement regarding Rev. Timothy Backous