Minn. Bishop Settles Civil Lawsuit Alleging Coverup of Sexual Abuse

by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 21, 2017   

First of its kind litigation against a bishop aims to "use civil litigation to seek justice"

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CROOKSTON, Minn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Minnesota bishop has settled a civil lawsuit against him for allegedly covering up a claim of sexual abuse from 1971.

Ron Vasek filed a first of its kind personal injury lawsuit against Bp. Michael J. Hoeppner of the diocese of Crookston on May 9, claiming that Hoeppner pressured Vasek to sign a letter recanting his story of sexual abuse in the diocese by refusing to ordain him a deacon and hurting his son's priestly career.

In a statement released Wednesday, the diocese of Crookston explains the settlement "avoids costly attorney fees and a drawn-out legal process." They also assert that diocesan funds were not used to pay the settlement nor does it mean the Bp. Hoeppner has admitted to any illegal activity or wrongdoing.

Bishop Hoeppner has consistently denied the allegations of Vasek. In a statement from May, Bp. Hoeppner states, "I, your bishop, deny that I'm in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue making allegations against [his abuser]."

Vasek claims he was molested at age 16 by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, a priest of the diocese, in 1971 during a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. Jeff Anderson, Vasek's lawyer, said at a press conference in May, Vasek did not speak of his abuse until he was in the process of becoming a permanent deacon in 2009 or 2010. Anderson says Vasek told another priest, who reported the incident to his vicar general who then contacted Bp. Hoeppner.

Anderson alleges Bp. Hoeppner contacted Vasek during that time, urging him to keep the accusations against Msgr. Grundhaus quiet. Anderson also alleges that Vasek claims to have been blackmailed by Hoeppner in 2015.

Ron Vasek

Vasek said, "I was told, 'If news of this scandal came out about Grundhaus, how could I ever ordain you? Where could I put you? Who would take you?'" Vasek then alleges Hoeppner said, "It could be difficult for your son who is a priest in our diocese."

While these statements could be construed as either a concerned warning or a threat, Vasek reports, "I knew then I was being blackmailed," explaining he signed a letter, recanting the accusations "to protect my son because I knew how evil a man the bishop could be if he wanted to be."

The diocese statement after the lawsuit "categorically denies" the claims and notes, "Mr. Vasek's allegations of abuse regarding Msgr. Grundhaus were reported to law enforcement in 2011." It also notes that Msgr. Grundhaus has been retired since 2010 and is "currently suspended from active ministry."

Vasek is represented by Jeff Anderson and Associates. Their website says they have represented thousands of victims of childhood sexual abuse and claim, "As pioneers of child protection through civil litigation, we are aggressively committed to this cause."

Jeff Anderson and Associates won a lawsuit against the diocese of Crookston in 2014 that forces it to publicly name any priest who has had credible accusations of abuse. They are also currently pursuing litigation against St. John's Abbey in Minnesota, recently settling 17 cases and naming three additional priests to the list of sexual abusers.

In a separate hearing on Wednesday, Vasek will ask the court to sanction the diocese for failing to produce Msgr. Grunhaus' file in 2015. Bishop Hoeppner and the diocese will ask for Vasek's charges of public nuisance and negligence to be dismissed.

Bishop Hoeppner asks for continued prayers for a "fair, just and timely" resolution, adding that Catholics of his diocese join him "in making each Friday a day of fasting and abstinence from eating meat as a sign that we know our most important sustenance comes from our loving God."

Neither Jeff Anderson and Associates nor the diocese of Crookston would return Church Militant's calls by press time.

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