Crookston bishop and longtime Winona priest allegedly covered up sexual abuse

Crookston bishop and longtime Winona priest allegedly covered up sexual abuse

By Kyle Farris, Winona Daily News, May 9, 2017

Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner, who spent 42 years as a priest in the Diocese of Winona, has been accused of covering up a decades-old case of child sexual abuse, and of blackmailing the accuser into keeping the claims to himself.

Hoeppner was named in a civil complaint filed Monday in Polk County district court.

Ronald Vasek, a longtime parishioner in the Crookston diocese and the father of one of the priests there, said he was abused by a diocesan priest in 1971, when he was 16, and that Hoeppner learned of this around 2010.

Vasek said Hoeppner discouraged him from sharing the allegations with anyone, and then used his family’s aspirations within the church — Vasek himself hoped to become a deacon — to force Vasek into silence.

“I felt like I had been abused all over again,” Vasek said at a news conference in Saint Paul on Tuesday. “To this day, I never have doubted one thing the Catholic church teaches …. But I saw nothing but immorality within our diocese — how things had been covered up for years and years. There could be other victims like me who have been silenced by the bishop or by anybody.”

According to the complaint and Vasek’s comments on Tuesday:

Vasek was sexually abused by diocesan priest Roger Grundhaus during a trip to Ohio in 1971, and told no one of the abuse for four decades.

Around 2010, when he was making plans to become a deacon, Vasek contacted a priest outside the diocese and asked if he should report the abuse to Hoeppner. The priest advised Vasek to come forward.

When Vasek and Hoeppner sat down to discuss the allegations, the complaint states, the bishop told Vasek he should keep quiet about them. That kind of story, the bishop allegedly told him, would be harmful to Grundhaus and the diocese.

For the next five years, Vasek kept the claims to himself.

In 2015, Hoeppner asked again to meet with Vasek. He presented Vasek with a document that, if signed by Vasek, would erase the allegations he’d made against Grundhaus. If Vasek cared about becoming a deacon and preserving his son’s priesthood, Hoeppner allegedly told him, he should sign the letter.

Vasek signed the letter, he said, and was later surprised to learn that his application to become a deacon had been rejected. That, he said, is when he decided to share the allegations with others.

On Tuesday, the diocese released a statement that read, in part: “Bishop Hoeppner categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged Mr. Vasek to not pursue his allegations regarding Msgr. Grundhaus.

“The Diocese of Crookston plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter. It would not be appropriate to comment further until that investigation has been completed.”

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