CROOKSTON, Minn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Minnesota bishop is criticizing Michael Voris, calling him "divisive" and refusing to lend his support to an upcoming speaking engagement.
"The divisive tactics often used by Mr. Voris and Church Militant are contrary to our call to live as missionary disciples," read a statement published Monday by Crookston's Bp. Michael Hoeppner. "Although Mr. Voris may be sincere, I consider his approach more destructive than fruitful."
The bishop is responding to Voris' scheduled speaking engagement at an event titled "Roman Catholic Revival," to be held Sept. 14 in Wildwood City Park, Crookston.
In his statement, Hoeppner quoted Philadelphia's Abp. Charles Chaput, who once accused Church Militant of sowing "division wherever they tread." Chaput's criticism came after Church Militant's report revealing Chaput had bestowed honorary positions on multiple pro-abortion, pro-LGBT leaders at the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
Hoeppner makes the false claim that the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops "revoked media credentials for Mr. Voris and Church Militant [and] therefore does not allow the media outlet to cover USCCB events."
"I have no memory of ever having been given media credentials to cover USCCB events," said Voris, "so there were no credentials to revoke, as they never existed in the first place."
Voris suspects Hoeppner is confusing this case with media credentials revoked at the Vatican's 2015 Synod on the Family by Fr. Thomas Rosica, a now-discredited priest guilty of multiple counts of plagiarism stretching back decades. Rosica is a well-known LGBT advocate, who once said there is "a sexual nature to the Eucharist" and who enthusiastically supports controversial Jesuit James Martin.
Rosica revoked media credentials after Voris, in the previous year's synod, asked a question during a press conference regarding the most controversial paragraph of the Midterm Relatio.
"Following on paragraph number 50, in the section titled 'Welcoming Homosexuals,' the first sentence reads, 'Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community,'" Voris said in the press hall. "Is the synod proposing ... that the gifts and qualities flow from the sexual orientation of homosexuality?'"
"Is the synod proposing that there is something innate in the homosexual orientation that transcends and uplifts the Catholic Church, the Christian community," Voris continued, "and if so, what would those particular gifts be?"
Archbishop Bruno Forte, who had inserted the paragraph, laughed off the query, saying it was difficult to answer "such an ontological question."
The question gained immediate international coverage, leading to outrage among faithful Catholics over wording that seemed to exalt homosexuality. After a vote from the Synod Fathers, Bruno's paragraph failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to be included in the Final Relatio. Pope Francis chose to include it anyway.
Voris' media credentials were revoked by Rosica at the 2015 Synod on the Family, ensuring he'd be unable to ask such challenging questions again in the press hall.
Hoeppner has been dogged by allegations of sex abuse cover-up.
In 2017, Hoeppner settled a lawsuit with an abuse victim who claims the bishop blackmailed him to remain silent about abuse he suffered at the hands of a high-ranking priest.
Deacon candidate Ron Vasek claimed he first made Hoeppner aware in 2010 of sexual abuse he suffered by Msgr. Roger Grundhaus during a trip to Ohio in the 1970s, when Vasek was a teen.
In 2015, Hoeppner reportedly called Vasek to his rectory, where he pressured him to sign a document retracting his allegation against Grundhaus.
"I thought if I signed this letter, it's a lie," said Vasek in 2017. "And I knew it was a lie. I couldn't sign that letter, I didn't want to sign that letter at all."
Vasek, who was then in the diaconate, claims he only signed the letter after Hoeppner implied he would never be ordained a deacon if he refused. The bishop also allegedly implied that Vasek's son, a priest in the diocese, could suffer consequences.
"I knew at that moment he was blackmailing me," Vasek explained. "I signed that letter to protect my son, because I knew how evil a man the bishop could be if he wanted to be."
Hoeppner denied that the settlement, which took place in record time — only four months after the lawsuit was filed — indicated an admission of guilt.
There's also evidence Hoeppner stayed quiet about a homosexual predator priest for at least a decade when he served in the Winona diocese. A cache of documents relating to Fr. Leland Smith show that Hoeppner was made aware of an allegation against Smith as early as 2002. Smith admitted to the abuse, which involved fondling a young male teen in the back of a car.
The victim had contacted the diocese after Smith showed up at his mother's funeral and expressed no remorse for having taken sexual advantage of him years earlier.
Although Smith was placed on administrative leave and ordered to avoid contact with minors, the priest was otherwise free to do as he pleased. He ignored the directive not to appear in clerics, and showed up to functions wearing his priestly collar. Hoeppner, then serving as vicar general, never contacted law enforcement about Smith, nor did he inform local Catholics or the public, even after a second abuse victim contacted the diocese in 2005.
Smith was finally publicly outed in a 2013 court-ordered published list of credibly accused clergy. In a Dec. 10 letter that year, Bp. John Quinn orders Smith to seek laicization and expresses disbelief that the diocese had not demanded this of the serial sexual predator years before.
"It is beyond the appropriate time for you to seek the favor of laicization as well," Quinn writes. "I have no answer as to why this process was not begun on your behalf years ago."
As then-vicar general in Winona, fully apprised of Smith's abuse, Hoeppner would have been responsible for making sure he was laicized — an action he never took, neither was it clear that he addressed Smith's violations of his administrative leave.
"We call on him to answer this question," wrote the Survivors' Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "How many other credibly accused predator priests, in Winona or Crookston or elsewhere, is he protecting now — and to explain why he violated church policy and common decency by keeping silent about a suspended and credibly accused priest for more than a decade."
Bishop Hoeppner's full statement follows:
June 3, 2019 – It has come to my attention that a group in the area is organizing a “Roman Catholic Revival” event, scheduled for mid-September in Crookston. The group has invited Mr. Michael Voris of St. Michael’s Media and Church Militant to be their guest speaker.
The term "revival" implies this group is hoping for an awakening or restoration to life and strength of Catholicism. While I fully respect people’s right to gather publicly and protest peacefully, I do not support this event as a means of enhancing Catholic life in the Diocese of Crookston. The divisive tactics often used by Mr. Voris and Church Militant are contrary to our call to live as missionary disciples. Although Mr. Voris may be sincere, I consider his approach more destructive than fruitful.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other bishops share my opinion. Archbishop Chaput has been quoted as saying Church Militant "sows division wherever they tread." Also, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) revoked media credentials for Mr. Voris and Church Militant, therefore does not allow the media outlet to cover USCCB events.
As Shepherd of the Diocese of Crookston, I want you to know the Diocese of Crookston is not sponsoring the event "Roman Catholic Revival Crookston" and does not endorse nor recommend participation at the event, as I think it will be more harmful than helpful. The individuals maintaining a Facebook presence "Roman Catholic Revival Crookston" and hosting the September "revival" do not speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church, myself as Bishop of Crookston, nor the Diocese of Crookston.
Watch the panel discuss Bp. Hoeppner's attempt to silence Church Militant in The Download—Bishop Bashes CM.