Deposition, Victim Testimony Expose Bishop’s Cover-Up

News: US News
by Stephen Wynne  •  •  November 5, 2019   

Bp. Michael Hoeppner slammed for 'concealment of crimes by predators'

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ST. PAUL, Minn. ( - Embattled Bp Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minn. has again come under blistering fire over allegations of clerical sex abuse cover-up.

On Tuesday, Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes in clerical abuse cases, joined predator priest victim Ron Vasek at a press conference in St. Paul to expose Hoeppner's history of protecting accused predator priests.

Anderson began the conference by speaking directly to Pope Francis, demanding Hoeppner's immediate removal, as well as that of Bp. Richard Malone of the diocese of Buffalo, New York, currently under Vatican investigation for sex abuse cover-up.

Both bishops, Anderson declared, "have been engaged and are engaging in a dangerous practice of deceit, deception, concealment of crimes by predators and crimes in which they are both complicit."

Illustrating the pattern of cover-up in Crookston, Anderson played excerpts from Hoeppner's October 2018 deposition, in which the bishop was challenged over allegations he covered for multiple credibly accused predators, including Vasek's alleged abuser, former diocesan vicar general, Msgr. Roger Grundhaus.

At times during his testimony, Hoeppner appeared dismissive; at others, amused. Much of his testimony was spent dodging Anderson's questions.

Fr. Patrick Sullivan

During the deposition, Anderson pressed Hoeppner about the case of Fr. Patrick Sullivan, removed from ministry over reports of "boundary issues," but later returned to ministry with the bishop's approval.

"When you returned Sullivan to ministry, did you ever tell anybody in the parish, either today or in the past that he has a history of boundary violations, and he refused to go to treatment as recommended by professionals?" asked Anderson. "Did you ever tell anybody that?"

"What was the question?" Hoeppner asked, appearing to chuckle.

"Did you ever tell the people about the risk that was discerned by the professionals?" Anderson repeated.

"We take all things into consideration," said the bishop. "We make a determination to put the man back into ministry. That's what was done."

"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," Anderson observed at Tuesday's press conference.

After Anderson presented his case, Vasek stepped up to the microphone to explain the impact of abuse on his life.

A Blackmailing Bishop

Vasek alleges that in the early 1970s, at age 16, he was plied with alcohol and sexually assaulted by popular Crookston priest Msgr. Roger Grundhaus.

In 2011, as part of his preparation to become a deacon, Vasek felt compelled to share his story with Bp. Hoeppner. According to Vasek, Hoeppner ordered him to keep quiet, saying his allegations would be terrible for Msgr. Grundhaus, who for years had served as vicar general of Crookston.

Ron Vasek

In 2012, Hoeppner signed a letter confirming Grunhaus' fitness for ministry: "He is a person of good moral character and reputation. I know of nothing which would in any way limit or disqualify him from his ministry. I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable for work with minor children."

Later reflecting on the exchange, Vasek said, "I didn't know what the hell to think. I just put my hands up and I said 'I just want to know if I can get through the diaconate program, knowing this information.'"

"That was the first time I had revealed my abuse in 40 years," he added, "so I was still kind of numb."

In 2015, a suit was filed against the diocese of Crookston, demanding Hoeppner release the names of clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

Msgr. Roger Grundhaus

Shortly after, Hoeppner called Vasek to his rectory, where he pressured him to sign a statement saying Grundhaus never sexually assaulted him.

Reportedly, the bishop explained that officials in the neighboring diocese of Fargo had learned of Vasek's 2010 allegation against Grundhaus, and were working to bar the priest from ministry in their jurisdiction.

Hoeppner threatened to bar Vasek from the diaconate and to make things "very difficult" for his son, a Crookston priest, if he didn't sign. In 2017, Vasek explained:

I read the letter, and I thought if I sign this letter, it's a lie. And I knew it was a lie. I didn't want to sign that letter at all. ... I said, 'Why should I sign that letter?' and [Hoeppner] said, "If news of this scandal ever came out ... how could I ever ordain you? ... Where would I put you? Who would take you?" Then he proceeded to say, "It would be very difficult for your son, who's a priest in our diocese, too." I knew at that moment he was blackmailing me. And my son had just gotten his first parish ... I signed that letter to protect my son, because I knew how evil a man the bishop could be ... .

In 2017, Vasek launched a first-of-its-kind personal injury lawsuit against Hoeppner and the diocese of Crookston, claiming the bishop coerced him into recanting his testimony against Grundhaus.

That same year, a court ordered the bishop to turn over the names of all priests accused of sexual abuse. Hoeppner released a list of alleged predators, but he covered for Grundhaus by omitting the monsignor's name from it.

Homosexual Subculture to Blame

In his comments at Tuesday's press conference, Vasek highlighted the pervasive homosexual subculture fostered in seminaries and dioceses that underlies much of the abuse crisis.

"When I was abused by Fr. Grundhaus in Columbus, Ohio, I did not know about homosexuality or the culture that exists within it," Vasek said Tuesday. "As a farm boy, I had not been exposed to anything like that."

"Not understanding what had happened to me, affected me for the rest of my life," he continued. "My understanding of fatherhood was shattered. A father-figure in my life violated my innocence."

The bishops knew what was going on, and did nothing.

Vasek noted that since going public with his account, many predator priest victims have reached out to him to tell him their stories.

"They were almost all the same. They were groomed by the priest. Most of them were altar boys that the priest had become friends with," he recounted.

Vasek went on to assess the impact the abuse and cover-up scandal has had on the Church itself:

As many of you know, the news of Cdl. McCarrick's sexual abuse of seminarians and subsequent cover-up of homosexual activity of priests is causing many in the Church shock. The faithful are having a hard time understanding what is going on. I don't blame them. The dark, secret cover-up of homosexual behavior has been under the radar for many years. Finally, the darkness of sin is being exposed. ... To the priests who have caused this, shame on you.

Since the '50s, a homosexual subculture had entered the seminaries, and many of the rectors, spiritual directors, [and] counselors practiced and encouraged this behavior and expected it. Many applicants who had applied to the seminary were not "in" if they did not espouse that behavior. Many men that did get into the seminary and were later found out not to agree with that behavior were kicked out. Many who realized what was going on and were pressured to conform left. The ones who accepted this behavior and participated in it are now bishops and cardinals. The bishops knew what was going on, and did nothing. Many promoted this culture and sent these young men in harm's way, including in the Crookston diocese.

"As you can see, the priesthood was corrupted by sin," Vasek observed. "When is the last time you heard of sexual sin from the pulpit? It's hard to speak about sin when you are living in it. Celibacy is promised at ordination."

"In any state of life, chastity is needed to keep one's vocation holy," he continued. "In the case of the Church, the Church has suffered greatly as a result of a lack of chastity, to the detriment of the faithful."

"Homosexual predators have been allowed to be ordained, and then when caught in abuse, it gets covered up," Vasek added. "This is happening on a local, national and international level. It must end."

Vos Estis Investigation

Bishop Hoeppner is being investigated by St Paul-Minneapolis Abp. Bernard Hebda. He holds the distinction of being the first prelate in the world to be investigated under Vos Estis Lux Mundi, Pope Francis' new guidelines for handling allegations of abuse or abuse cover-up against bishops.

In a September 10 statement, Abp. Hebda explained that Hoeppner is accused of "acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in the diocese of Crookston."

Abp. Bernard Hebda

"Law enforcement has been notified of the allegations," 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."

Represented by Anderson, in July, Vasek and 14 other abuse survivors reached a $5 million settlement with the diocese. Anderson's office has made the internal documents gathered during the investigation available to Abp. Hebda and Vatican officials.

"This is a big deal. Bishop Hoeppner and his alarming practices have been on our radar for a long time," Anderson said later. "This gives us a chance to reveal to the Vatican and to the community some of the dangerous and reckless practices, past and present. They need to take a hard look at what he's done. It isn't about just one priest."

Earlier reflecting on the cover-up in Crookston and in the wider Church, Vasek said: "I just think that if these guys ever, ever plan on having any aspect of eternity with our Creator, now is the time to come clean on this. Because if they don't, they'll have to atone for that later — that's their sin, not mine."

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