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CROOKSTON, Minn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Proclaiming his innocence, a Minnesota priest is fighting back after his bishop placed him on leave for "boundary violations" — an allegation he categorically denies.
A statement Friday from the diocese of Crookston says the bishop, Michael Hoeppner, "has placed Fr. Bryan Kujawa on administrative leave, effective Tuesday, Jan. 14."
Father Kujawa, it announces, will remain on leave following further investigation and psychological treatment, and pending recommendations from the diocesan review board. The statement alludes to "several issues concerning Fr. Kujawa's fitness for ministry ... including non-criminal, non-sexual boundary violations."
Father Kujawa published a lengthy statement on social media maintaining his innocence. He says the decision to remove him and send him away for psychological treatment was triggered by an anonymous allegation that got to diocesan officials via hearsay:
Finally and most recently, a woman — whose identity was not made known to me — complained that she heard from her friend, who herself did not want to make a complaint, that I rubbed her thigh in confession. To be clear, I have no knowledge of who the alleged penitent was, but I can assert that this complaint is false. Because I have never done and would never do any such thing with any penitent in confession, ever, I am shocked that Bp. Hoeppner and Msgr. Foltz would act on such hearsay.
Nevertheless, during my meeting with Bp. Hoeppner and Msgr. Foltz yesterday morning, I was told that these complaints were the basis for the removal of my faculties and the order that I undergo an assessment.
Father Kujawa notes there were other, earlier complaints about his behavior. But the only complaint that was factual, he claims, involved nothing sexual or immoral.
In 2017, the priest was a spiritual director to an underage girl, and at times communicated with her via text message about scheduling the dates and times to meet for spiritual direction. The girl's parents "felt it was inappropriate" the priest was texting their daughter, though there was nothing questionable in the content of the text messages.
The other two complaints, Fr. Kujawa claims, are a September 2018 allegation about "verbal abuse" and "manipulation" — which Kujawa calls an "unfounded accusation" — and a December 2019 complaint from a woman claiming he got angry with her for missing Mass.
Church Militant contacted Fr. Kujawa on Friday, but he declined further comment.
Though he believes the bishop is treating him unjustly, Kujawa is complying with his order to leave for the St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania for psychological treatment.
A local Catholic, who asked to remain anonymous, told Church Militant he was "thoroughly disgusted" when he learned how Fr. Kujawa is being treated.
He expressed fear that "good young priests" are being "purged" from the diocese of Crookston. Referencing past scandals in the diocese, he remarked, "It's amazing how trouble follows trouble."
He spoke about fighting corruption and cover-up in the Church: "It's a big boulder to push, but we've got to keep pushing on it."
Faithful Crookston Catholics have petitioned for the removal of Bp. Hoeppner, owing to his history of protecting accused predator priests. Hoeppner has the distinction of being the first prelate in the world to be investigated under the new abuse guidelines issued last year by Pope Francis.
Abuse victim attorney Jeff Anderson once said of Bp. Hoeppner: "The practices and choices employed by Bp. Hoeppner, past and present, are perilous ... and he continues to engage in that pattern of concealment ... allowing predators to remain."
Clerical sex abuse victim Ron Vasek says Hoeppner coerced him into signing a letter into recanting his testimony against Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, a popular Crookston priest who Vasek says abused him when he was 16 years old in the 1970s.
In June, Bp. Hoeppner issued a statement criticizing Church Militant, accusing the apostolate of using "divisive tactics."
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