Crookston bishop denies coercing clergy sex abuse victim from reporting allegation, diocese investigating

| May 11, 2017 | 6 Comments

Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston. The Catholic Spirit file photo

The bishop of the Diocese of Crookston “categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged” a candidate for the permanent diaconate not to report his claim of sexual abuse against a priest of the diocese, the Diocese of Crookston stated May 9 in response to a lawsuit filed that day against the bishop and the diocese.

At a press conference held at attorney Jeff Anderson’s St. Paul office, the plaintiff, Ron Vasek, said he told Bishop Michael Hoeppner about the abuse, which he suffered as a teenager, while he was considering becoming a permanent deacon for the diocese in 2009 or 2010. He said the bishop told him that he couldn’t tell anyone, including his wife, because it would damage the reputation of the accused priest, Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, who had held leadership positions in the diocese.

According to the Diocese of Crookston, the abuse allegation was reported to law enforcement in 2011. According to Anderson, Msgr. Grundhaus’ name was not included on a list of priests accused of abuse the diocese released in 2014.

Vasesk, 62, entered the diaconate program in 2011. He said that in 2015, Bishop Hoeppner asked him to sign a letter stating that the abuse didn’t happen, as the abuse accusation was prohibiting the bishop from clearing Msgr. Grundhaus for ministry in another diocese. Vasek also said that the bishop told him that not signing the letter would make it difficult for the bishop to ordain Vasek a deacon and it could affect assignments for his son, who was recently ordained. Vasek said he felt that the statement was a threat, but he signed the letter to protect his son.

Vasek also said that Bishop Hoeppner recently tried to prevent his diaconate ordination, which was scheduled for June, by asking his pastor to withdraw support for his ordination. At that time, he shared the story of his abuse for the first time with his wife, Patty, and the director of the diocese’s diaconate program, Father Robert Schreiner.

According to the complaint, around 1971 Msgr. Grundhaus sexually abused Vasek, who was then 16, while Vasek was accompanying the priest to a meeting of canon lawyers in Columbus, Ohio. Msgr. Grundhaus retired from full-time ministry in 2010 but has continued to assist at parishes. According to the diocese’s statement, he is currently suspended from active ministry.

In addition to accusing Bishop Hoeppner of coercion, the suit files a count against the bishop for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Filed against the diocese are counts of neglect, negligent supervision, negligent retention and two counts of nuisance.

Vasak is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, as well as an order requiring the diocese to publicly release the names of “all agents” accused of abuse, and an order for the diocese to “discontinue its current practice and policy of dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse by its agents secretly, and that it work with civil authorities to create, implement and follow a policy for dealing with such molesters that will better protect children and the general public from further harm.”

Father Schreiner stood alongside Ron and Patty Vasek, and spoke in Ron’s support.

“I believe him,” he said. “My experience of Ron over these many years is that he simply isn’t capable of manufacturing this.”

Vasek said his Catholic faith hasn’t been shaken by the situation. “My faith in the Catholic Church has never wavered one bit and never will,” he said.

“I don’t want this at all, ever, to be talked about as to be against the Catholic Church,” he added. “This is to purify the men in the Church [because of] their sinful actions and their unlawful actions that has nothing to do with the Catholic faith, but has to do with men within the corporation part of the Catholic faith. … The truth will set you free, and that’s why I’m here today.”

A native of Winona, Bishop Hoeppner has served since 2007 as bishop of Crookston in northwestern Minnesota.

“Bishop Hoeppner and other diocesan leaders are deeply saddened and troubled about the allegations made today by Ron Vasek,” the Diocese of Crookston said in its statement. “The Diocese of Crookston takes all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously.”

It stated that it “plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter” and that Bishop Hoeppner “asks that all those involved be kept in prayer during this difficult time.”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Local News

  • Jim R

    It just doesn’t end. Prayer doesn’t have anything to do with this but the Pope removing bishops like these, if found guilty does. The Popes Child Abuse Commission was a shame and sadly for most victims, the bishops who covered for abusive priests were never fired or jailed. I fail to see why lay people keep giving these people their hard earned money

    • Ervin Miller

      Pedophile priest have brought terrible shame, major travail to Catholic Dioceses, legal complications and financial crises. Having said that, pedophilia is not only a problem in the church, it is a major problem in the general population. Studies reveal that from 3 to 4% of the general population are pedophiles, they come from all sectors including teachers, coaches, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, politicians, protestant ministers and the list goes on. Where do pedophiles come from? They come from the general population, they are the guys who slipped through the vetting process for studies to the priesthood. The pedophile focus is largely on the Catholic Church, that’s not to excuse pedophilia in the church, however pedophilia is a larger problem in the general population then the liberal media will reveal. Pedophilia is a major problem for schools, Boy Scouts, and other organizations that work with children and young people. Pedophilia is a disorder similar to homosexuality. Studies also reveal, currently, less then 2% of all priests are pedophiles. That means that over 98% of priests are not pedophiles, are good and decent men dedicated to serve God’s will. It’s travesty that priests who are pedophiles under the radar continue to bring such shame on Church and good a holy priests. They need to wake-up and leave the priesthood, this scourge on the Church needs to end. I believe Pope Francis has taken decisive action to clean up this mess. I also believe that Catholic Bishops, for the most part, are using due diligence to get rid of pedophile priests and have processes to guard against pedophiles getting into the priesthood

  • Ervin Miller

    Jim R: Pedophile priests in the Catholic Church have inflicted terrible pain on those whom they have violated, and brought disgrace, shame, legal implications, plus financial crisis for many dioceses. Not to excuse pedophilia in the church, but we must recognize that pedophilia like homosexuality is a disorder prevalent in the general population. Studies reveal that from 3 to 4 percent of the general population are pedophiles. Where do priests come from? They come from the general population and are the guys who slip through the vetting process to study for the priesthood. Studies also reveal that less then 2% of all priests are pedophiles. In other words 98% plus priests are not pedophiles, and are good men dedicated who serve in the priesthood to do the work of the Church.

    I believe Pope Francis has taken decisive action to clean up this mess, and that Bishops are doing due diligence to remove pedophile priests and guard against pedophiles slipping through the vetting process. As for pedophile priests who are still under the radar, stop the travesty and remove yourselves from the priesthood. Stop perpetrating his terrible pain on the Catholic Church, the clergy, the laity. As for pedophilia in the general population, it is a crisis brought on by pedophiles in all sectors in our society, including teachers, coaches, businessmen, politicians, lawyers, doctors, protestant ministers, to name a few. Unfortunately the liberal media’s coverage on pedophilia is largely on the Catholic Church.

    • Jim R

      Your response has excuses sprinkled with justification and minimization.
      First, your stats are way off. The Royal Commission of Child Abuse released a report in 2017 that 7% of Australian priests were pedophiles. In Boston, the rate was 7% when The Globe broke up that pedophile ring. Altoona PA has 39 of them and it’s a small diocese with two consecutive bishops that covered for them. Have you been reading about the Guam bishop? He’s been acused of abuse but you can bet if he’s guilty, the pope will keep him in the system. The Jay Report cites 4% of the total for the US.
      Second, what evidence are your referring to that Francis has been decisive in cleaning any of this up? He’s done next to nothing. His farce commission didn’t remove one bishop and he hasn’t fired one bishop who was proven to cover for pedophile priests: Flynn, Finn, Dolan, Nienstedt, Pell, Rigali, Law, etc. The media didn’t cause this and Thank God they exposed this! The reason they focus on the Church is because nobody gets fired or goes to jail for these crimes. I wasn’t talking about pedophiles in other organizations but since you brought it up,those pedophiles get fired and go to jail! Look at when it happened at Penn State. Instead of blaming the media or minimizing the amount of offenders, please place the blame at the feet of those who committed these crimes and where the accountability lies; the vile priests, the bishops who cover it up and the Pope who refuses to take action. I do because they are not held accountable

  • Ervin Miller

    Your comments are embellished and seem to reflect your hatred of Catholicism. Catholic bashing is not new, started two thousand years ago and has continued throughout history. That does not excuse pedophilia in the Catholic Church, our Cardinals and Archbishops need to work expeditiously to deal with this terrible plague to our Catholic Church. I do believe you are incorrectly accusing the Church leaders of neglecting to address the issue. Our local bishop has been very adamant in getting at the problem. Having said that, I wish that Church leaders would be more forth coming with information about progress in identifying and expunging pedophile priests. The errant pedophile priests do not define God’s Catholic Church, they are sinners like all of us. If they are found guilty, they should receive appropriate civil punishment. One thing I will grant you, I believe your comments help keep full focus on this shameful situation, and will hopeful accelerate the process to identify, determine guilt, and assess proper civil punishment.

    • Jim R

      Actually, I used to be Catholic and don’t hate them. But, I do hate pedophiles and the cowards that protect them. I have a sibling who was abused and the “authorities” covered for the priest. You have your standards for the Church addressing it and I have mine. For me, it is either the imprisonment or defrocking of the bishops who covered this up or both. To date, this number is zero. This also proves to me that none of these men are truly holy or credible because if they were, this would have never happened to even one child. Jesus would not approve!