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CROOKSTON, Minn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Minnesota bishop is the first in the world to be investigated according to the Pope's new guidelines for allegedly covering up clerical sex abuse.
Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Crookston diocese is being investigated by Abp. Bernard A. Hebda of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese.
Archbishop Hebda said in a statement Wednesday that the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops had charged him with the task of investigating Bp. Hoeppner. This is a result of Pope Francis' new guidelines for handling abuse claims or cover-up allegations against bishops.
This is the first investigation into a U.S. bishop under the new guidelines from the Holy See, enumerated in the document Vos Estis Lux Mundi published this May.
In the document, the Pope assigned the task of investigating claims against a bishop to the metropolitan archbishop. Some have criticized this plan, arguing that bishops investigating each other is not transparent and could facilitate future cover-ups.
Archbishop Hebda's statement explained that Crookston's Bp. Hoeppner has been accused of "acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in the diocese of Crookston."
"Law enforcement has been notified of the allegations," Abp. Hebda noted.
He went on to state, "I have appointed qualified lay persons to assist me in carrying out this investigation, to provide an independent review of its contents, and assist in its examination and analysis."
Ron Vasek is a Catholic who claims he was sexually assaulted when he was a minor by a monsignor of the Crookston diocese. The alleged incident happened during a trip out of state in the 1970s. Decades later, Vasek alleges, Bp. Hoeppner tried to pressure him into silence when he came forward with the claim.
Speaking about the newly launched investigation, Vasek told Church Militant on Wednesday, "This is what I worked for for two and a half years — to get the truth exposed."
Archbishop Hebda's statement did not get into the specific details of the allegations against Bp. Hoeppner. But Vasek seemed confident that his own complaints of a cover-up played a central role, saying, "There could be other allegations, but I know their case is based on my case."
Regarding his suit against the Crookston diocese, Vasek explained, "My whole goal and mission has been to expose what's been going on in the diocese."
Vasek opined that the Crookston diocese has the same kinds of problems as other dioceses in the United States — homosexual clergy, abusive priests getting shuffled from parish to parish, and bishops covering it all up.
A preliminary investigation against Bp. Hoeppner, Vasek told Church Militant, will be "completed and given to the nuncio within a week."
Vasek was hopeful that a short deadline will make it hard for forces in the diocese to put up roadblocks — "block after block after block."
He said his message to fellow Catholics is, "Pray for the purification of the Church. It's thoroughly needed. The only way the Church can be purified is through our prayers."
He remarked that the crisis in the Church is "a terrible thing to talk about," but needs to be addressed.
"The divisive tactics often used by Mr. Voris and Church Militant are contrary to our call to live as missionary disciples," Hoeppner argued in the June 4 statement. "Although Mr. Voris may be sincere, I consider his approach more destructive than fruitful."
The statement came in response to Voris' speaking engagement in Crookston Sept. 14, at an event titled "Roman Catholic Revival." Church Militant learned that diocesan priests were told to warn Catholics at Sunday Mass not to attend the event.