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Survivor's view: Duluth Diocese’s claim of ignorance rings hollow

As recently reported, a priest, Fr. Timothy Backous, who was appointed to work in Duluth at St. Michael’s parish and at Essentia Health, was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old in the early 1990s (“Priest on leave after allegations aired,” June 13). When asked about it, diocesan officials from Duluth and the Twin Cities pleaded ignorance to knowing about his past. Instead of properly vetting this man’s credentials and work history, they relied on a letter from the head of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., who said Backous had a clean record and was fit to work with children with no restrictions.

When questioned later, a head of St. John’s Abbey said he didn’t feel the accusations against the priest were proven. The parents of the young, 13-year-old boy, however, were told by the head of the abbey in the 1990s that Backous would receive treatment for his behavior and would be transferred out of the area and never allowed to work with children again.Back in the 1990s this was how bishops and other church leaders handled sexual abuse. Tell the parents we are sorry, we’ll provide counseling for your son, and we’ll get the priest into treatment and transfer him out of the area. We know now that type of response only leads to more children being abused by clergy pedophiles.

Now we see the Duluth Diocese putting children at risk by not properly vetting Backous. Saying we didn’t know is not an acceptable excuse in today’s world. Did Backous actually receive treatment? And if he was transferred, to where? Did he molest children in other parishes? What type of investigation was conducted on Backous and by whom? How can we trust the Duluth Diocese to protect our children if it doesn’t review a priest’s history and ask questions like where he worked, whether he ever was in trouble, and why was he transferred so much? Were there any complaints issued against him for sexual abuse?

We cannot allow the Catholic Church or any other institution that has access to our children or vulnerable adults to not properly and professionally vet prospective employees.

We with the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, urge anyone who has information regarding Backous or who has been abused by clergy to contact police or us immediately.

Verne Wagner of Duluth is the northern director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP (snapnetwork.org).

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